A typical afternoon inside the offices of a Midtown Manhattan skyscraper suddenly turned to chaos Monday when a helicopter, just 11 minutes into its flight, crash-landed on the roof above.
Several floors of the building shook. Before the alarms started to blare and workers had a full understanding of what was happening, security was ordering them to grab their belongings and evacuate.
Frantic employees squeezed into the stairwell, hurrying down flight after flight, not knowing that a helicopter had just crashed on top of their building, sparking a fire and leaving one person dead.
"It took a half hour to get from the 29th floor down to the ground floor. There were just too many people, it was too crowded, and everybody was trying to get off on all the floors at the same time," Nathan Sutton said, standing outside of 787 Seventh Avenue.
"You could feel the building shake, and you could actually hear the alarms," he said.
The pilot, identified as Tim McCormack, died in the crash, law enforcement said.
'My mind goes where ever New Yorker's mind goes'
Lance Koonce was one block away from 787 Seventh Avenue when he heard something that sounded like a helicopter flying very low. He saw a sheet of flame and smoke when he looked out the window.
Morgan Aries was inside the crash site on the 14th floor.
"We felt a little bit of a tremor," he told CNN.
The order to evacuate came minutes later, he recalled.
"There was a moment in which we all couldn't get out of the building because we're all just backlogged in there," Aries said.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was among the many New Yorkers who said the incident brought back memories of the September 11 terror attacks at the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan.
"If you're a New Yorker, you have a level of PTSD from 9/11," Cuomo said. "And I remember that morning all too well. So as soon as you hear an aircraft hit a building, my mind goes where every New Yorker's mind goes."
Fighting the fire
The helicopter took off from the 34th Street heliport about 1:32 p.m., NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill said, and it crashed about 11 minutes later.
At the time of the incident, moderate to heavy rain was falling in the city and visibility at Central Park was down to 1.25 miles. Winds were from the east at 9 mph.
Based on interviews the NYPD conducted at the 34th Street heliport on Manhattan's east side, the pilot was waiting out the weather but for some reason decided it was OK to go, another law enforcement source told CNN.
The pilot then flew around Battery Park on the southern tip of Manhattan, up the west side of the island and then, somewhere around the streets in the 40s, started to veer toward midtown Manhattan before ultimately crash landing, the law enforcement source said.
O'Neill could not say whether the pilot made an emergency call from the Agusta A109E helicopter.
The first firefighters were on the scene within five minutes, Thomas Richardson, FDNY chief of fire operations told reporters. Firefighters climbed to the top of the 54-floor building to put out the three-alarm fire.
FDNY Lt. Adrienne Walsh, one of the department's first responders, described the roof scene as "a debris field that was on fire."
Mourning a pilot, a volunteer firefighter
McCormack flew for American Continental Properties, the company that owns the helicopter, for the past five years, according to a company statement.
"We are mourning the loss of Tim McCormack," the statement said.
Nearly five years ago, in October 2014, McCormack was flying a different helicopter over the Hudson River with six tourists on board when a bird struck and broke part of the windshield, according to CNN affiliate WABC.
McCormack was forced to make an emergency landing at the West 30th Street heliport. No one was injured in that incident, according to the report.
McCormack said at the time that it was "pretty much like an explosion going off in your cockpit."
His passengers started screaming and crying, the station reported.
"A little bit of pandemonium," he told the station, recalling the incident. "You kind of gather yourself, and we headed over till we landed at 30th Street."
McCormack had volunteered with the East Clinton Volunteer Fire Department since 1994 and served as the department chief for 10 years, East Clinton Fire Department Chief Don Estes said reading a statement. McCormack had also volunteered with the LaGrange Fire Department, according to Estes.
"Tim was a dedicated, highly professional and extremely well-trained firefighter. Tim's technical knowledge and abilities to command an emergency were exceptional," Estes said reading the statement.
McCormack was respected by his department and other firefighters in Duchess County.
"Tim will be exceptionally missed by his department members, not only for his leadership but his wonderful sense of humor,' Estes said.
"Rest in Peace, brother," he said.