Early reports on Monday, June 10, 2019, out of New York City were that a helicopter had crashed into a building in Manhattan.
The wording of that sparks a response in many people, especially New Yorkers and their neighbors in the Tri-State area, many of whom commute into the city for work every day. Those were, after all, the very words of concern that most of us heard first on the beautiful, clear-blue sky morning of September 11, 2001. In that moment, our world had changed (though we didn’t yet know how much it had) An airplane, the reports on the radio and on TV said, had “crashed into a building.” It was one of the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center. And soon, another airplane would fly into another building—the other tower. And the Pentagon would soon be hit. And a fourth airliner would crash in Pennsylvania. And the Twin Towers would fall as hundreds of millions watched on live TV, or in the case of many New Yorkers, watched in horror with their own eyes.
For all we knew, a war was starting, with whom and for what reasons we knew not. Which made it all the worse. It was a horrible time for America, a horrible time for the world. And as it turned out, a war was beginning, just not the kind of war anyone imagined it would be. It is, however, a war we’re still waging, with no end in sight some 18 years later.
Monday’s crash was nothing like that, and those early reports were wrong. The helicopter crashed on top of and not into a building. The building was 787 7th Avenue, in Midtown, near the Rockefeller Center and The Museum of Modern Art, an area of the city chock-a-bloc with skyscrapers and nowhere suitable for an emergency landing.
The helicopter was an Agusta AW109e, a small, twin-engine model, a version of one of the most successful helicopters ever. They’re used for a variety of roles, everything from search-and-rescue to medical emergency transport, executive transportation and charter, among others. Small helicopters like this operate all over Manhattan, though they land only at a few designated heliports. Twin-engine helicopters have that second engine mainly because with two they can lift a lot more payload. And the second engine gives some redundancy should one of them fail.
The crash closed down blocks of New York as police and fire responded to the accident, those men and women in uniform not knowing exactly what kind of harm they might be rushing into as they headed out to do what they did on September 11th, help innocent people who find themselves in harm’s way. President Trump tweeted his support for those first responders, and America held its collective breath to learn more.
As it turned out, the risk was minimal and isolated to that one rooftop. It wasn’t terrorism, just a crash of a small aircraft, presumably with some kind of mechanical issue.
There have been reports that the as yet unidentified pilot of the craft, who died in the crash, called air traffic control to say that he had an emergency. Setting the helicopter down on top of the roof of a building—it hit very hard and was destroyed in the process—his act very probably saved lives, perhaps many lives. By putting it down on top of that building instead of trying for an open area on the streets below where, New Yorkers know, there are few open areas, he chose a riskier path but one that probably saved lives.
The whole story isn’t out yet, but at this point it looks as though the pilot, far from using an aircraft to do people harm, chose to make his emergency landing on an extremely small and difficult surface in order to do the exact opposite of harm. That’s the real story.