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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Presidential Candidate; Pilot Killed in New York City Chopper Crash. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired June 10, 2019 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:00:01]

BILL DE BLASIO (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This helicopter took off from the 34th Street Heliport, ended up here, which is a very unusual situation. And, obviously, that leads to questions that we have to answer.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Is this a usual flight path for it?

DE BLASIO: No, this is an unusual situation, for sure.

Now, what we feel strongly is, there's no nexus to terror here. There's no evidence of any act of terror or motivation. This is a commercial pilot. This is someone who's been doing this work for a while. Apparently, it was an executive helicopter used to ferry around executives. So...

COOPER: It's a one-pilot helicopter, as far as I understand.

DE BLASIO: That's what we understand. And the only fatality that we know of at this point appears to be the pilot. It does not appear there was any customer or any passenger.

COOPER: Is there a landing pad on this...

DE BLASIO: No, there absolutely is not. Helicopters have not been landing on buildings in Manhattan for decades. There was a horrible crash in what was the Pan Am Building some years ago, and it was banned after that.

And, in fact, a helicopter should not be in this area of Manhattan without the approve of La Guardia Airport Tower. Is that because of Trump Tower or the Times Square or...

DE BLASIO: Certainly because of Trump Tower in particular. But just something like this should have been authorized. We don't have any indication it was, but we're still investigating to confirm that.

COOPER: Obviously, the conditions, it's -- there's a lot of fog up there. It's tough, low visibility. Could that have played a role?

DE BLASIO: It could have. I have to tell you, our fire department had to get up there over 50 stories, put out a fire on top of that building before any harm was caused to other people. Thank God. They did an extraordinary job.

New York City Fire Department got up there, put the fire out. There were no other injuries to anybody either in the building or on the ground.

COOPER: It's also extraordinary that there's not -- I mean, worst case, there could have been debris flown around. There's not.

DE BLASIO: Anderson, this could have been a horrible incident. This helicopter could have came down on the street. There could have been a huge amount of debris.

The only debris we heard of actually landed in one of the setbacks of the building, never made it down to the street. This could have been a real -- a bigger tragedy.

COOPER: Is the helicopter itself intact largely?

DE BLASIO: The helicopter is pretty obliterated at this point. It obviously a very hard hit. There was a fire on top of that. There's not much left of that helicopter.

But, look, we don't know what happened and why it happened. This is very unusual. The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are going to look at this. It certainly begs the question of whether we need tighter regulations of the use of helicopters in densely populated areas.

But we don't know what was on with this individual. We see nothing criminal, thank God, but we don't know what was on with...

COOPER: Obviously, just finally, anything involving a building and an aircraft in New York City, it brings back memories, it brings back concerns. What's your message to New Yorkers?

DE BLASIO: My message to New Yorkers is, to be very clear, there was no act of terror here. There's no indication of any ongoing threat. This appears to be a very individual incident. We don't know if it was a malfunction. We don't know if there was something wrong with the pilot.

But thank God no one else was injured. When I first heard it, like you, because you're a New Yorker, too, we immediately thought, was this an act of terror, was this purposeful?

It does not appear to be not only an act of terror. We're not even sure if it was purposeful, as much as an emergency landing or some other kind of instant problem that came up. But we're going to have a full investigation to find out what happened here.

COOPER: Mayor de Blasio, thank you very much. Appreciate it. Thanks very much.

So, that's it, Jake, no act of terror that they're saying, no sign of that whatsoever. Possibly just a hard landing, a crash landing on a building, although it is interesting what the mayor said, Jake, about this not being a usual flight path.

For those who aren't from the island of Manhattan, the takeoff point is on the Hudson River, which is in that direction just four or five blocks, actually very near our new offices. And then that's basically crossing across the island of Manhattan. We're on 51st street around 7th Avenue.

So it's not clear why the pilot was heading in that direction. But, again, there's -- as you can see -- if you just pan up right now, this building is in the clouds. And so obviously, visibility up there is very, very low. Obviously, some helicopters are -- special equipment for low visibility.

But a lot more to be learned, Jake, clearly about what exactly why the pilot felt the need to land on this building and whatever distress was in the chopper that made them crash here in the first place -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes.

And, Anderson, as Miles O'Brien was saying earlier in the show, Manhattan is not an island that has a lot of helicopters buzzing around. I think there are only ,at least according to Miles O'Brien, not including hospitals that obviously have helipads for emergency situations, I think there are only three helipads on the island of Manhattan.

And so the idea that somebody would be taking off from the western part of Manhattan Island and then just buzzing over Midtown is certainly unusual.

COOPER: Yes, I have lived in New York all my life. Any time you hear a helicopter -- we used to be up by Columbus Circle -- any time you heard a helicopter nearby, it was a police helicopter involved in something or called in to look for something.

It is very rare that you see helicopters flying over. You know, they usually go over the water, and that's where the helipads are. They're on the east -- they're on the west side of the Hudson River, not on the east side, obvious, for reasons.

[16:05:05]

And that's why occasionally, when you heard about a helicopter crash in New York, it's usually into water, because it's before -- it's right after taking off or right before landing.

TAPPER: And this story, as a New Yorker, your response when you first heard about this story was the same that Mayor de Blasio was talking about, the punch in the gut, oh, no, maybe this again is what we experienced on 9/11.

COOPER: Yes.

I mean, any of us who were here, obviously, that is the first thought. I was actually in a taxi or in an Uber crossing town to get to the office and they were blocking off traffic. And it was clear something was going on. I immediately called into the office and they said, you know, a helicopter crashed on top of a building. That's all we know.

And obviously, you know, it raises immediate concerns. But, again, it's a relatively small helicopter. You know, as far as we know, there was just the one person on board. And the visibility is really bad today. Not only is it raining. It's kind of miserable here on the street.

When you go up high, if you're in the top floor of that office building, you know, you can't see out, because there's clouds all around. So, any pilot who, for whatever reason, is flying here -- and, again, we don't know why they would be doing that -- this would be a very difficult area to fly in right now.

TAPPER: That's right. And you're at the intersection of 51st Street and 7th Avenue, just a few blocks from Times Square and Central Park. It's a 51-story building.

Anderson Cooper, we will come back to you. Thank you so much for that.

I want to bring in CNN's Brynn Gingras. She's in New York.

And, Brynn, you heard Mayor de Blasio and the police commissioner and the fire commissioner all talking about the investigation that's going to happen right now or that's actually already in the middle of happening.

A big mystery as to how this individual, why this individual who was piloting that aircraft took off, and only nine or 10 minutes later had obviously seemingly tried to touch down and land on top of a building.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Jake.

It's almost as if what officials didn't say is telling a lot, right? At this point, again, they reiterate that it's preliminary in the investigation. But they didn't talk about the fact that there was, you know, the communication that was going on with La Guardia.

They didn't talk about where this helicopter was supposed to be going, its flight path or anything about the registration of the helicopter. Again, we don't know the pilot's name, who it belonged to. So there's still a lot of questions that are out there, which I know we keep raising, which is, you know, what was going on?

Why was it in this particular area of Manhattan? Of course, it is a relief to hear that there was no terrorism threat or there's no concern at this point for authorities in their minds. But why did it take off from that east side heliport, which is on the east side in the middle of Manhattan, and then end up just 11 minutes later on the top of this tallest building of that block?

And, again, a lot of questions about, was there a mayday call? Was there a sort of flight path this pilot was supposed to go on and then went a different path? Again, these are all major questions that investigators are looking into. And I know Anderson was talking about the visibility on the ground.

It's difficult. Well, just, let's keep in mind that New York City is full of cameras. Any time an investigation gets started, authorities go directly to those cameras to answer some questions.

And it is my belief, talking to many people, many sources, that it's difficult to have sight of this helicopter at times because of the visibility with the cameras. They're being blocked by the fog and because of this bad weather.

So that's possible it's causing some sort of hindrance in the investigation. And that's why we may not have some answers that authorities would hope to have had at this point. They also just might be sort of waiting until they have some more confirmed information before releasing it.

But some big questions here about, again, who is this pilot, what's the tail number of that aircraft? We know it's sort of an executive plane -- or ,rather, helicopter, that it took off. It didn't have anyone else on board. But, again, that big question, what was it doing in the middle of Manhattan?

TAPPER: Brynn Gingras, thank you so much.

And I believe that the mayor had said -- or maybe it was the fire commissioner or the police commissioner had said that the individuals -- the helicopter was believed -- the home base for it would be in New Jersey and they weren't sure exactly where -- why exactly it ended up where it ended up.

If you're just joining us, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, the fire commissioner and the police commissioner just gave a press conference in which they talked about this high-profile helicopter crash that happened earlier today, where a helicopter crash-landed on the top of a build at 51st and 7th Avenue, just a few blocks from Times Square in Central Park.

According to Mayor de Blasio, there is one fatality that they know of that is presumed to be the pilot. No other fatalities or injuries that are known as of now. No reason for the crash. No motive for this being on purpose. As of now, no nexus to terror is known as of now.

[16:10:01]

A lot of mysteries ensuing right now as to how and why this happened.

CNN transportation analyst Mary Schiavo joins me now.

And, Mary, how do authorities begin to investigate this kind of crash? What are they looking at right now?

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, right now they're looking at things that happened on the ground before this pilot ever took off.

The NTSB obviously will let the fire department get the fire under control, get everything under control, but the wreckage of the aircraft may actually determine very little, if there was mechanical problems or if there wasn't a mechanical problem that they can find.

They're going to be looking at why this pilot was taking off when ceilings were going to be about 500 feet and buildings in Manhattan, include the building that this plane came -- or helicopter came down on, is higher than that.

Why they weren't in what's called the VFR, the visual flight rules corridor -- there's a corridor around on the Hudson River around Manhattan where helicopters can fly without talking to traffic control. And the reports are that there was no air traffic control clearance.

This pilot shouldn't have been where this pilot was, landing on the building, without air traffic control clearance. So, so many of these answers are going to be back where this pilot took off and back at the pilot's base of operations.

And I believe there's a number of commercial on-demand helicopter transport companies in Teterboro, including ones that advertises these twin engine helicopter transport back and forth to Manhattan. So the investigators are going to comb the ground to find out what happened in the air.

TAPPER: All right, Mary Schiavo, thank you so much.

Let me bring in Miles O'Brien.

Miles, what comes to your mind when you take in the circumstances of this crash, which are surprising and a mystery to so many individuals? Especially as a private pilot, what goes through your mind?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, Jake, this is a bad day for flying in New York City.

And a 500-foot ceiling in Midtown Manhattan is particularly hazardous, of course. Our understanding is, this helicopter, which is a twin engine Agusta 109, took off from the West Side heliport in the 30s in Manhattan.

It's based at Linden, New Jersey, which is very close to Newark Airport. Where it was headed is unclear, but we're told it was not in communication with air traffic control. Now, that on the face of it is pretty routine. Helicopters taking off and landing at those heliports are basically on the aviation version of a party line.

They all just talk to each other and stay out of each other's way by self-reporting. Of course, there wouldn't have been a lot of other traffic out there today. But any time a helicopter flies across the island of Manhattan, you're supposed to check in with air traffic control. And there's no indication that that occurred, and, obviously, this helicopter made that decision.

There's also the possibility that this helicopter would have been inside the clouds at some point. And any time you're doing that, you're under instrument flight rules, and it would be illegal for a pilot to do that without filing an instrument flight plan, and all kinds of other rules come into play in that case.

So lots of questions that are out there right now. I will say this. You know, a twin engine helicopter, I think we can take engine failure probably lower on the list. The possibility of losing two engines is pretty remote.

Owned by an individual apparently for 11 years, based at west Linden, New Jersey, was this a pilot trying to pick up the owner of the aircraft for transport? Was there some pressure to do that? All of these will be the questions that the National Transportation Safety Board will begin trying to answer.

TAPPER: And we're told that the New York authorities have preliminary identified the pilot who died in this helicopter crash. It's not confirmed yet, though, according to the police commissioner, so they're going to further research that and make sure it's right, obviously inform next of kin.

And when asked if the pilot made a distress call from the helicopter, the police commissioner said that that's part of the investigation.

So I guess, Miles, one of the things they will be looking into is what distress call was made or not made, whether or not the pilot got permission from La Guardia to fly over Manhattan. Typically, would somebody just fly over the water and around Manhattan, instead of flying over?

O'BRIEN: Well, if you stay in those corridors along the river, the Hudson and East River, you have a different set of rules. And you can fly without checking in, as it were.

The minute you touch -- you go feet-dry, as it were, over the island of Manhattan, you have got to check in with La Guardia tower and let them know what you're up to.

You probably remember, Jake -- I guess it's been almost 10 years now -- the flight of a New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle in a single- engine aircraft on the East River side.

[16:15:08] He was flying at a time that that corridor was open to small aircraft, single engine fixed wing, and he made a turn and flew into a building there. That was a legal flight without checking in with air traffic control. Since that time, they've restricted a lot of the flights on the East River side, but helicopters are still allowed to fly there, of course.

TAPPER: And, Miles, how low are individuals allowed to fly if they are given the green light? I mean, this building is 51 stories high which in a lot of parts of the country is unbelievably high, but in New York City, not necessarily so high. It seems fairly low actually to be around that distance.

O'BRIEN: Yes. I mean, a 500-foot ceiling in Manhattan, it's pretty dangerous to consider flying across the island of Manhattan with a 500-foot ceiling, there's no question about that. And, you know, the rules for helicopters are different than it is for single engine or typical fixed wing aircraft. Visual flight rules, meaning the rules that allow you to fly are pretty simply stated for helicopters, remain clear of the clouds and you have to fly at a speed that would avoid a collision with some object or another aircraft.

So, in other words, because helicopters can fly so slowly, the minimums are different and so while this might have been technically a legal VFR flight, if that helicopter ended up in the clouds or certainly over Manhattan, those would be two clear violations.

TAPPER: All right. Miles O'Brien, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Let me go to our Miguel Marquez, one of our reporters on the ground in Manhattan.

And as you might fully understand, this was a moment of some terror for Manhattanites experiencing this helicopter crashing on their roof.

Miguel, you're on the scene. You've been talking to people who were witnesses, talking to people who are in the building. What are you hearing?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, when a building shakes and reports of a plane into a building, which were the initial reports, it's fear and adrenaline across all of New York. And that was the case.

I spoke to people on the 29th floor, the 14th floor, and the 7th floor, all three felt the impact of that helicopter on to this building. And the one on the 29th floor said it shook fairly violently.

Let me show the building now, it's been like this pretty much all afternoon. This is a sense of what the conditions are like here. That is a sense of what the building looks like on top. I have been here for several hours now and not seen any sense of fire, smoke, anything coming off that building.

Everybody seemed to get out just fine. But there was a lot of scary moments. The rain -- once the helicopter hit that building, there was a fire that broke out. We saw several firefighters come down in the last hour or so with their faces covered in soot.

So that part seems to be mostly done. The fire department got on it very, very quickly and were able to deal with it. But the witnesses saying that they were told initially to wait at their desks and after about ten minutes, the alarms went off and the loudspeakers came on and said to evacuate the building. There was a rush down the stairs. It was crowded, but they were all able to get out.

The people I spoke to on three different floors said there was a lot of confusion and a lot of uncertainty. They weren't sure if they should keep going down. They weren't sure because they could smell smoke, especially on the higher floors, if the fire was below them and going up, but they could smell smoke. It smelled like a lumber fire rather than jet fuel or some sort of gas

fire or chemical fire. So, they weren't really sure what was burning and where the actual fire was. So, a lot of confusion, but at the same time, if it is the pilot and only the pilot who died, god love him, because we are in one of the busiest parts of Manhattan and had he come down between buildings and ricocheted off buildings and brought more debris down with him, it could have been many, many people injured and possibly killed -- Jake.

TAPPER: That's right. Mayor de Blasio saying that as horrible a tragedy as this is and was, it could have been far, far worse, especially when you consider the debris that could have hailed down on a busy Manhattan sidewalk.

Miguel Marquez, thank you so much.

We're going to continue to follow this breaking news. We're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back.

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[16:23:35] TAPPER: Welcome back. We are following breaking news.

Authorities right now investigating what might have caused a helicopter to crash on top of a Manhattan building, killing at least one person. Authorities now say they have preliminary identified the identity of the pilot they're working to determine if the pilot made a stress call from the helicopter. Also working to confirm his identity.

The former managing director for the National Transportation Safety Board, Peter Goelz, is here with me.

And, Peter, first of all, you had a reaction to hearing from Miguel Marquez that somebody on the 7th floor of the this 51-story building felt the crash, you know, so many floors above. What's your response? What's your read on that?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: That indicates a very heavy crash. I don't think that was any kind of auto rotation situation, where he's trying gently land on the top of the building. My guess is, he was lost in the clouds and came down awfully hard. Particularly since the description of the wreckage is that it's pretty well devastated. So my guess is, he was not -- you know, they're going to find the engines were working just fine.

TAPPER: So, your reaction is, somebody's on the 7th floor, 44 stories above him, a helicopter crashes. You're saying, there's no way -- or in all likelihood the pilot was trying to do an emergency landing.

[16:25:02] This was just an accident. He accidentally ran into the building.

GOELZ: Yes, I think -- I think the force of the impact, if they felt it on the 7th floor, was tremendous. TAPPER: And also, you know something for this helicopter, just for

those who are aviators out there. It's an Agusta A109E helicopter. Tell us about that kind of helicopter.

GOELZ: Yes, it's a quick executive helicopter. It really gained popularity in Europe over the past decade for a commuting helicopter for the very wealthy. They would fly from downtown London out to their estates. It's well known throughout Europe and it's pretty popular here, as well. It's quick and actually pretty sexy.

TAPPER: So kind of sleek.

GOELZ: Yes.

TAPPER: A status symbol, as it were, almost a Bentley or Mercedes- type of helicopter?

GOELZ: Absolutely.

TAPPER: And if this individual was a pilot or actually the executive himself, then who knows where he may have been going at that time.

As somebody who knows a lot about aviation, would it be normal for somebody to fly over the isle of Manhattan? We know that he got on, I think, in the 30s on the helipad on the west side of Manhattan. Would somebody just go over Manhattan or follow the rivers that surround the island?

GOELZ: You follow the channel, you follow the rivers. And as miles indicated, it would be very unusual that the midtown Manhattan not only because of the Trump tower, but because of Times Square is really off-limits without permission. And the air space around the island of Manhattan was reconfigured after the Cory Lidle accident.

TAPPER: That's the New York Yankee who accidentally flew his plane into a building.

GOELZ: That's right. He was down on a farewell flight around Manhattan, got into the buildings on the Upper East Side and couldn't get out. There was also an accident on the East River between a helicopter and a private plane, that also impacted the rules.

The rules are clear. Under a thousand feet, you're on visual flight rules. You fly under 140 knots and you let people know where you are.

TAPPER: And you were saying, on a day like today in Manhattan where it's rainy, it's foggy, visibility is poor -- explain to us when you talked about the ceiling, what that all meant.

GOELZ: Well, if the ceiling was 500 feet --

TAPPER: You're only allowed to fly --

GOELZ: No, that means that up until 500 feet, you have some visibility, once you're above 500 feet, you're in the clouds. If you're visually flying that plane, you want to get under the clouds. So, you can see where you are.

TAPPER: You want to be under 500 feet.

GOELZ: Exactly.

TAPPER: And how tall is a 51-story building is --

GOELZ: Well, that's right about 500 feet.

TAPPER: That's right about 500 feet.

GOELZ: Yes.

TAPPER: So let me bring in Mary Schiavo, too.

Mary, a 500-feet visibility in Manhattan and this individual is flying a helicopter right around where a 50 to 51-story building would be, which is ultimately where he crashed and perished.

SCHIAVO: Right, and you're not allowed to fly at 500 feet over anyone's head. You can't fly over populated areas at that height.

So, I agree with Peter, something else had to be going on. He was crashing into the buildings, because it's simply not legal to fly at these heights. You know, and certainly not in this kind of weather. But it's just not any kind of a legal flight. So something had to be going wrong.

And Peter may be right. There maybe nothing that they find wrong with that helicopter. The NTSB put out a warning and a number of studies on something called loss of tail rudder effectiveness, where the tail can enter sort of a yaw, you know, moving from left to right and if you don't correct that -- and winds and weather can have something to do with that.

So, there's so many things that could have gone wrong, which is what had led many groups in Manhattan after accident that Peter mentioned, the midair collision. That's when I worked over Manhattan when nine people were killed over the Hudson River, a lot of people want to ban it.

There's a movement called Stop the Chop in New York City, where numbers of groups want to stop them for several reasons -- noise, pollution, safety, congestion. Despite a big movement, it's been going on for 15 years or so.

TAPPER: And in fact, New York City Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York, just put out a statement saying, 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.

Everyone, stay with us. We're going to squeeze in another quick break. We'll be right back.

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