LINDEN, N.J. - When faced with danger, Timothy McCormack, the pilot who died in a helicopter crash in New York, was not one to flinch.
As a volunteer fire chief for the Clinton Fire Department in New York, he would study the scene of a fire, using knowledge and training to battle the searing flames and to save lives.
And on Monday, as the Agusta A109E helicopter he was flying pierced the dense fog over midtown Manhattan, he once again appeared to steady the scene, crash-landing on the top of a building, likely saving the lives of dozens of people on the city streets below.
"I think he tried to land on the building to save the people on the ground," said Paul Dudley, the manager of Linden Airport, where the helicopter was based. "Because if he went to the ground it would have been carnage."
Shortly before 2 p.m. Monday, McCormack appeared to make an emergency landing on the roof of a 51-story building at 787 Seventh Ave., authorities said. The crash resulted in a fire that all but incinerated the helicopter. McCormack was killed in the wreck.
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By reputation, McCormack, of Clinton Corners, New York, was a consummate veteran of the skies, having flown for helicopter companies and as a private pilot, Dudley said. He had been flying for 15 years, receiving his commercial pilot certificate in 2004, according to Federal Aviation Administration records. Just last month, he passed a medical exam.
"He is a highly experienced, highly trained commercial helicopter pilot," Dudley said. "He's been flying around the New York area and different places for many, many years."
At the Clinton Fire Department, his reputation was much the same, with his colleagues remembering the well-trained, knowledgeable chief who guided them through blazes.
"Tim was a dedicated, highly professional and extremely well-trained firefighter," the Fire Department said in a statement. "Tim's technical knowledge and ability to command an emergency were exceptional."
About four years ago, McCormack stopped working for helicopter companies and became a private pilot for Daniele Bodini, who owns the helicopter, Dudley said. A message left at a number listed for Bodini did not draw a response.
The crash and the minutes leading up to it are still a mystery. Most helicopter pilots knew not to fly in the foggy conditions, said Mike Isler, a helicopter pilot and aerial film producer who is based at Linden Airport. On Monday, the conditions were so bad that the helicopters at Linden were grounded.
"Shortly before his accident, a weather system came through here that I thought it was the end of the world," Dudley said. "I couldn't see the cones."
The fog was so thick that helicopter tour companies in New York City were told to stay grounded, said a representative for Liberty Helicopters, one of the city's helicopter tour companies.
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As of Monday night, McCormack's flight path from the 34th Street heliport was still unexplained, even by fellow helicopter pilots. Because of the low visibility from the dense fog, McCormack may have experienced spatial disorientation, Isler said.
So questions still lingered about what happened to McCormack amid the clouds, even for Dudley, himself a helicopter pilot.
"Something had to have happened," Dudley said. "Either something mechanical or something weather-related that overwhelmed the pilot. Because you had a highly trained, highly experienced veteran pilot in a top-notch aircraft. Something must have happened to overwhelm him."
This article originally appeared on North Jersey Record: Helicopter crash pilot 'tried to land on the building to save people on the ground,' airport manager says