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Calls for Chopper Ban Over City After Deadly Midtown Crash

Helicopter Crash
A helicopter crash-landed on a midtown skyscraper, killing one person, June 10, 2019.
Photo: Courtesy of FDNY

The deadly crash of a helicopter atop a Manhattan skyscraper Monday revived calls to ban “non-essential” helicopter travel over the city.

The chopper’s pilot was killed in a fiery wreck while trying to make an emergency landing atop the 54-story AXA Equitable Center on Seventh Avenue, between 51st and 52nd Streets, officials said. The craft had taken off from the 34th Street Heliport.

The incident marked the latest in a recent string of helicopter crashes in city airspace — which politicians and advocacy groups say should be off-limits to most choppers.

“We cannot rely on good fortune to protect people on the ground,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat whose district covers parts of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Roosevelt Island. “It is past time for the FAA to ban unnecessary helicopters from the skies over our densely packed urban city. The risks to New Yorkers are just too high.”

Car service driver Nicolas Estevez was 54 flights down on Seventh Avenue when the crash sent debris that landed right next to his black Chevy Suburban.

“Can you imagine if one of those big pieces fall down on the street, how many people would die? A lot of people,” said Estevez, 62, who took a photo of the wreckage with his phone. “We got lucky that those big pieces stayed right on the roof.”

Helicopter Debris
Livery driver Nicolas Estevez said a piece of debris from the helicopter fell in front of his SUV parked on Seventh Avenue and 51st Street, June 10, 2019.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

In the wake of a March 2018 helicopter crash into the East River that killed five people, members of Congress from New York and New Jersey petitioned the Federal Aviation Administration to tighten regulations on chopper flights in the city. Last month, another helicopter crash-landed into the Hudson River.

“Today’s crash and the crash in the Hudson from May further underscore the danger of non-essential flights over Manhattan and Brooklyn,” said Rep. Nydia Velazquez, a Democrat who represents parts of Brooklyn, Queens and Lower Manhattan.

‘The Sanctity of Our Airspace’

The office tower at 787 Seventh where the pilot attempted to land did not have a helicopter pad — the rooftop pads were banned after a 1977 crash atop what was then known as the Pan-Am Building killed five people.

“There have been several tragedies, for sure,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday on CNN. “They’ve happened right at the helipads or out over the water. This one, though, begs the question about the sanctity of our airspace, not just in Manhattan, but all over this country, particularly in major urban areas.”

Nicolas Estevez
Livery driver Nicolas Estevez said a piece of debris from the helicopter fell in front of his SUV parked on Seventh Avenue and 51st Street, June 10, 2019.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

“It’s not that safe flying on top of the big city,” said electrician Satish Shahi, 59, who was in Midtown when the helicopter crash-landed. “Just go outside the city.”

With city airspace controlled by the FAA, past efforts by City Council members to cap tourist helicopters haven’t gotten far. But the city’s Economic Development Corporation last year did ban open-door sightseeing choppers from taking off from the Downtown Manhattan Heliport.

The chopper that crashed into the East River in March 2018 — killing all on board except the pilot — was an open-door tourist helicopter.

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