New York City, NY Helicopter Rotor Kills Five, May 1977


New York (AP) -- Just after ferrying airport passengers to mid-Manhattan Monday, a helicopter flipped onto its side atop the 59-story Pan American building and sent its three rotor blades flying through the air like scythes, killing five persons.
Three were reported killed atop the skyscraper, and two women died when the debris fell to traffic-filled streets 800 feet below.
"I heard a great sound, glass was blowing all over us," said PAUL VATNE, a Norwegian magazine reporter who had just disembarded. "It looked terrible. It did not seem as if there had been a helicopter there before. It was just a bunch of iron."
Another passenger about to board the aircraft was ROBERT LEVENWOOD, of Centerreach. "Everybody threw themselves to the floor. There was blood all over everyone. The rotor must have hit something or other," he said.
Deputy Chief Medical Examiner MICHAEL BADEN identified the three persons who died atop the building as DAVID TOOMEY of Montclair, N. J., MICHAEL FINDLEY of Manhattan and "an unknown mutilated body believed to be that of a male from Milan, Italy." ANNE F. BARNECOTT of the Bronx died on the street below, he said. The second woman dead on the street remained unidentified.
Officials at Bellevue Hospital said eight persons were treated for various injuries caused by the accident.
Helicopter flights from atop the midtown skyscraper behind Grand Central Station had resumed Feb. 1.
They were suspended nine years earlier because they were losing money and because of community concern over the safety of the operation in one of the world's most densely populated business and residential areas.
Mayor Abraham Beame immediately ordered the suspension of the permit for the airline, New York Airways, pending an investigation of the accident by federal authorities. The National Transportation Safety Board said it was sending investigators immediately.
One of the rotor blades flung from the roof arched through an office window on the 36th floor of the Pan Am building. No one was injured.
There were conflicting reports as to the cause of the accident. One theory was that the landing gear buckled while the aircraft was on the pad, its rotor whirling. Another report was that structural failure might have loosened the rotor blades.
Minutes before the 5:33 p.m. accident the aircraft had landed on the roof. Some 20 passengers from Kennedy got off, their baggage was unloaded and the process of boarding 21 passengers for the return trip began.
Three persons had boarded through a door on the right side of the craft when the helicopter flipped over on its right side, its blades whirring. Capt. LEE RICHMOND, Flight Officer JOHN FLANAGAN and Stewardess LANNIE CHEVELLER, all of them unhurt, assisted those aboard to safety.
The Sikorsky helicopter was described as similar to the type which has been used for some years without mishap by the White House. New York Airways uses them on from 30 to 35 flights a day from the Pan American pad.
On the roof just prior to the accident disembarking passengers joined those waiting to board in a glass-enslosed waiting room while baggage was unloaded.

The Post-Standard Syracuse New York 1977-05-17