CreditPeter Foley for The New York Times

A helicopter took off from a heliport on the East River yesterday afternoon amid fog and rain. Just over 10 minutes later, it crashed onto the rooftop of a skyscraper in Midtown Manhattan.

Only the pilot was aboard the aircraft, officials said, and he was killed. An airport manager at the helicopter’s home base in Linden, N.J., identified the pilot as Tim McCormack.

Officials rushed to the scene, the AXA Equitable Center at Seventh Avenue and 51st Street, where the crash had shaken the building and the helicopter burst into flames. Then came a familiar yet unsettling routine: A skyscraper was evacuated. Emergency medical workers came from all directions and converged on the building. Smoke billowed from its roof.

News of the crash rattled New Yorkers, many of whom wondered if it had been an accident or something deliberate.

An explanation of what caused the crash was not immediately available, but officials quickly said it did not appear to be an act of terrorism. Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill raised the question of why the pilot was flying in poor weather.

Helicopter crash sites can pose difficulties, especially when they are hundreds of feet above the ground. Firefighters took elevators to the building’s upper floors, according to Daniel A. Nigro, the city’s fire commissioner. Once there, they used special hoses and “special pumpers” to put water on the fire.

“If you’re a New Yorker, you have a level of PTSD, right, from 9/11,” Governor Cuomo said at the scene.

It is rare to see the exact moment a top official learns of an emergency. The Times’s Ali Watkins was interviewing a police official when it happened.

Here’s her dispatch:

Forty-five minutes before a helicopter crashed in Manhattan, I stepped into the office of John Miller, the Police Department’s deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism, at Police Headquarters. We had traded sporadic messages for weeks, trying to coordinate a meeting, and had finally nailed down a time.

Mr. Miller and I were wrapping up a wide-ranging discussion about terrorism. It was notable, we both remarked, that the city had gone some time without a major attack. The conversation was interrupted when a man stuck his head into Mr. Miller’s office.

There was a helicopter down in Manhattan, the man said. It was some kind of accident, possibly on a crowded Midtown street.

The words caused an instantaneous flurry at the headquarters. Mr. Miller sprang from his chair and said a polite goodbye, and then prodded anyone nearby for more details. I was a forgotten observer, standing awkwardly in the lobby as officers and other employees moved around me. “Helicopter?” “Crash landing?” “Midtown?” Words bounced around the reception area.

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