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Chopper crash on NY tower triggers 9/11 fears, calls for curbs

Emergency crews surveying damage from a helicopter crash on a rooftop of a building on Monday. The crash revived calls for more curbs on helicopters flying over the densely populated region.

New York

FOR hours on Monday, fog surrounded the skyscrapers in midtown Manhattan. About the end of the late-lunch period came the roar of an aircraft flying low, followed by what some assumed was an explosion.

A helicopter had crashed onto the roof of an office building on Seventh Avenue and burst into flames. The impact jolted the building at 787 Seventh Avenue, between 51st and 52nd streets.

Only a pilot was aboard the doomed aircraft. He was killed, and investigators were trying to determine if he had been trying to make an emergency landing.

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Alerts spread on cellphones as New Yorkers wondered if the crash had been deliberate. It rekindled memories of a far different day - Sept 11, 2001, when jetliners commandeered by terrorists destroyed the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

But Governor Andrew Cuomo, who arrived quickly at the scene, said there was no indication of terrorism. He acknowledged that the initial reports had jarred nerves. "If you're a New Yorker, you have a level of PTSD, right, from 9/11," he said. "I remember that morning all too well."

Police Commissioner James O'Neill said the helicopter had been flying through restricted airspace. Mayor Bill de Blasio said investigators would have to establish whether the helicopter had been in contact with air traffic controllers at La Guardia Airport.

The crash was the second involving a helicopter in less than a month and the latest of several fatal incidents in and around New York City in the past 20 years. It revived long-standing calls for greater restrictions on helicopters flying over such a densely populated region.

The helicopter's home base was an airport in Linden, New Jersey, where Paul Dudley, the airport manager, identified the pilot as Tim McCormack.

He said Mr McCormack worked for American Continental Properties, a real estate concern that said he had flown for the company for five years.

Fire Commissioner Daniel A Nigro said firefighters who arrived in little more than four minutes put the fire out as the building below, which houses the offices of several financial firms, was being evacuated.

The crash recalled an accident in 2006, when a single-engine plane carrying New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle smashed into a 42-storey apartment building on the Upper East Side, killing Lidle and his flight instructor. That accident sent debris tumbling to the sidewalk and started a fire that destroyed several apartments.

But it was the memory of the Sept 11 attacks that flashed through the minds of people in Le Bernardin, the three-star Michelin restaurant at the foot of the building. The lunchtime crowd, eating lobster and drinking champagne, was jolted by the noise.

"It goes through everyone's mind," said Jenaro Mendoza, a waiter, recalling the terror attacks. Added a colleague, Antony Cordero, "You never know what it is, if it's terrorism."

Emergency responders who rushed to the top of the building said the helicopter might have hit something on the roof as the pilot tried to land, causing the aircraft to flip over and burst into flames, one city official said. NYTIMES