Helicopter crash raises questions, concerns about Manhattan airspace

MIDTOWN, Manhattan (WABC) -- Airspace over New York City is no stranger to helicopters, but just hours after the latest crash came the cries to ban them from flying over Manhattan.

"It's too densely populated," Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney said. "It is too dangerous, and there is absolutely no safe place to land."

Sight-seeing and corporate helicopters regularly operate in some of the most congested and complicated airspace in the world, with the vast majority sticking to a sliver of airspace along Manhattan's two rivers known by pilots as the "exclusion zones."

When in those zones, helicopter pilots are not required to talk to air traffic control -- provided they stay below 1,100 feet on the East River and below 1,300 feet along the Hudson.

Our own NewsCopter7 reporter John Del Giorno says pilots regularly flying Manhattan airspace know the rules.

"It's really not a free-for-all," he said. "The professional pilots that operate in this area every day are familiar with those and know the ins and outs of navigating in this area."

Pilot Timothy McCormack must have known about the flight restriction that forbids air traffic in a one mile radius around Trump Tower, yet he was well inside that restricted zone when he crashed on the roof of the 51 Street high-rise.

"Every pilot is aware of that, and I don't believe anyone would fly into that zone intentionally risking license and their livelihood," Del Giorno said.

Video of the helicopter suggests he became extremely disoriented, making turns and steep dives, and radar shows dramatic changes in speed from hovering to 140 milies per hour. His last altitude reading is below 800, about the height of building he hit.

"Any pilot, regardless of level of training, can easily become disoriented in instrument conditions," Del Giorno said. "No reference to the ground nor horizon, you could lose track of what is up and what is down, what's left and what's right."

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