Helicopter crash in New York leaves at least one person dead, officials say

A helicopter crashed on the roof of a skyscraper in midtown Manhattan early on Monday afternoon. One person, reportedly the pilot, was killed.

In a tweet around 2pm on a day of rain and low cloud that obscured the tops of many tall buildings in the city, the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) said: “FDNY members are operating on scene at 787 Seventh Avenue in Manhattan, helicopter crash landing.” The New York police department subsequently said the incident was a “hard landing on the roof” of the building.

“Fire has been extinguished,” an NYPD tweet said, adding that people should avoid the area between West 51st Street and 7th Avenue.

The FDNY said work was continuing “in response to fuel leaking from the helicopter” and said: “There is currently one fatality reported.”

A White House statement said Donald Trump had “been briefed on the helicopter crash in Manhattan and continues to monitor the situation”. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it was “gathering information” on the crash.

The building at 787 Seventh Avenue, close to Broadway theaters and Times Square, is the 54-storey Axa Equitable Center.

It opened in 1986 to much comment about its extensive displays of corporate art. As the New York Times reported, such displays included “murals by Thomas Hart Benton displayed in the lobby; large-scale wall commissions by such well-known contemporaries as Roy Lichtenstein and Sol LeWitt and massive sculptures by Barry Flanagan and Scott Burton.”

Police cordoned off the area in midtown. Photograph: Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images
On Monday police, cordoned off the blocks around the building, barring access to reporters. A police official told the Guardian that although the fire from the crash had been contained, authorities were continuing to clear more of the area because of concerns about falling debris.

Wanda Tucker, who works at legal firm on the 21st floor of the building, was there when the helicopter hit.

“I was just coming upstairs from lunch,” she said, “and a coworker asked me if I felt the building shake. Then they just told us that we have an emergency situation and that we had to evacuate the building.”

Talking to reporters, New York governor Andrew Cuomo referred to common anxieties around initial reports of such incidents, as when a small plane flew into a tall building on the Upper East Side in 2006.

“If you are a New Yorker,” he said, “you have a level of PTSD from 9/11. And I remember that morning all too well. So as soon as you hear an aircraft hit a building, I think my mind goes where every New Yorker’s mind goes.”

Tucker said “someone got word” what happened while she was in the building stairwell. Asked what went through her head, she said: “9/11.”

She said: “I know a lot of people where having anxiety. Once you get stuck you don’t know what’s going to happen.” On getting out of the building, Tucker said, she called her family and then her boss, to let them know she was safe.

Helicopter crashes are not unknown in and around the steepling buildings of midtown and lower Manhattan. Last year, five people died when a sightseeing flight crashed into the East River, in which three people died in a crash in 2011. In 2009, not far from the scene of Monday’s crash, nine people were killed when a sightseeing helicopter collided with a small plane.

On Monday, outside the exclusion zone imposed around the skyscraper, on 53rd Street between Sixth and Seventh avenues, a Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) worker called Michael, who declined to give his surname, said that though he did not see the crash, he “heard a helicopter going by”.

He said: “I figured they were headed to the heliport on 34th Street. I said, ‘It’s flying too low. It sounded like a freight train.”

Then there was silence. “I thought he was trying to make an emergency landing,” he said.