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Thread: The Pan Am Building Helicopter Accident

  1. #1

    Default The Pan Am Building Helicopter Accident

    This month marks the 30th anniversary of the accident at the heliport then atop the Pan Am Building that occurred when a New York Airways Sikorsky helicopter was boarding passengers for a scheduled flight to John F. Kennedy International Airport. In its report about the accident, the National Transportation Safety Board described the event and its probable cause:
    About 1735 e.d.t., on May 16, 1977, the right landing gear of a New York Airways, Inc., Sikorsky Model S-61L helicopter, N619PA, failed while the aircraft was parked, with rotors turning, on the rooftop heliport of the Pan Am Building in New York, New York. The aircraft rolled over on its right side and was substantially damaged. Four passengers had boarded the aircraft and other passengers were in the process of boarding. The passengers and the three crewmembers onboard received either minor or no injuries; however, four passengers who were still outside the aircraft and were waiting to board were killed and one was seriously injured. One pedestrian on the corner of Madison Avenue and 43rd Street was killed and another was seriously injured when they were struck by a separated portion of one of the main rotor blades of the aircraft.
    The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the accident was the fatigue failure of the upper right forward fitting of the right main landing gear tube assembly. Fatigue originated from a small surface pit of undetermined source. All fatalities were caused by the operating rotor blades as a result of the collapse of the landing gear.
    The heliport was permanently closed after the accident. Below are a pdf copy of the Times May 17, 1977 report on the accident and links to the NTSB report and a photo of the accident aircraft at

    N619PA Photo (at
    Attached Files Attached Files
    Last edited by ManhattanKnight; May 24th, 2007 at 08:49 PM.

  2. #2


    Read an article in the Times here about how Richard Serra found the rigging crew he uses [Budco Enterprises] to install his massive steel pieces.

    “I trust these guys implicitly,” he said of Mr. Vilardi and the small corps of men who show up time and again to help him complete his works. He couldn’t resist another story, about how he came to choose them, by way of their elders, Mr. Vilardi’s father, Ross, and the father of Joe Vilardi’s cousin, Ray LaChapelle, who were his first riggers.

    In 1977, when Mr. Serra’s pieces had begun to grow so large he needed expert moving help, he had no idea where to turn. But one day, shortly after a highly publicized accident in which a helicopter toppled on the helipad atop the Pan Am Building, sending rotors and other debris flying, he saw in the newspaper that a rigging company had agreed to take on the extremely risky job of lowering the jagged pieces of wreckage down 58 floors.

    “That’s a hell of a tricky job,” Mr. Serra said, seeming impressed even all these years later. “I mean, there’s no handbook in terms of rigging on how you do that one.

    “So I just got in my car and I went to see them. I said to myself, ‘Now these are the guys I want to work with.’

    audio slideshow

  3. #3


    ^Nice story. Actually, I understand that the City of NY refused to allow that "extremely risky job" (lowering the damaged copter from the roof to the street). Instead, it was disassembled and taken down via the building's service elevator. After being rebuilt, it was reported still to be in service as recently as last year.

  4. #4

  5. #5


    This was probably the most thrilling public transportation in history. It flew at kissing distance round the Chrysler Building's spire. Sure was expensive, though.

  6. #6


    That's a wonderful photo. Thanks for posting it.

    A scheme from the 30's:


    Pan Am when hopes where high:

    Super fab 70's PanAm advertising jingle:

  7. #7
    Forum Veteran MidtownGuy's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    East Midtown


    ^ that cheesy, orgasm-inducing commercial makes it seem like they're flying you straight to Paradise.

  8. #8


    ^ And the stewardesses prolonged the illusion. In those days they were picked for their looks.

  9. #9


    I havent seen a hot stewardess in years!

  10. #10


    ^ Pressure from feminists eliminated first the requirement to look good, then the requirement to be female. The hot ones are now male.

  11. #11

    Default Pan Am Helicoper accident

    I was on the phone looking out the window that day, it was a beautiful sunny day. The helicopters landed everyday on schedule, and I would always watch them. This chopper on arrival landed just perfectly. Then in I guess 20-30 mins. while I was expecting a lift off, I see a huge blast of black smoke rising, and my stomach just kind of dropped, like the drop in a elevator. As I knew of course that it crashed on it's attempted take off. Then there were a number of helicopters that began to merge over the airspace above. I was not very long before you could see they were attending to the flames. But I could see part of what seemed to be the tail section of the helicopter pushed up near the railing of the rooftop, like maybe on it's side.That was what it looked like. Knowing the layout of that landing area up there and the small waiting structure, with the glass front, I knew anyone on the roof standing would never have a chance to avoid the flying debris of the rotors. So it will always be a moment I will remember, those people that I never met, and it was their last moments. It was a shame that was the final flight to ever land on top of the then Pan Am building. I missed the magic that seem to take place every time one of those Helicopters landed.

  12. #12
    NYC Aficionado from Oz Merry's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002


    There Used to Be a Helipad on the MetLife (Pan Am) Building in NYC

    by Michelle Young

    Embed from Getty Images

    Embed from Getty Images

    Today, you’ll probably come across the re-envisioned, glass-clad renderings of the MetLife Building (formerly Pan Am Building) at 200 Park Avenue (say it ain’t so!). They’re part of an industry-led architectural competition by Metals in Construction magazine and the Ornamental Metal Institute of New York to reimagine the 1963 building next to Grand Central Terminal with a “resource-conserving, eco-friendly enclosure.” But did you know that the Pan Am Building once had a helicopter deck on its roof? In 1965, trial runs for the roof began using a Chinook helicopter.

    In many ways, the helipad brought to fruition a long-standing urbanist dream of a multi-modal, multi-level city first popularized by the Moses King’s Kings Dream of New York in 1908. As evidence of the fervor for air travel in the 1960s, in 1966, the architectural historian Reyner Banham wrote in The Architects’ Journal: ”There is no other way to come into the island city of Manhattan. From now on, it has to be helicopter or nothing.”

    The concrete helipad was in operation from 1965 to 1968, and took enterprising travelers from the Pan Am Building to the airline’s terminal at John F. Kennedy Airport. The Vertol 107s helicopters were operated by New York Airways, also servicing Teterboro Airport for a period of time. The demand did not match expectations, so service was concluded after three years.

    The helipad reopened in early 1977, with flights aboard Sikorsky S-61 helicopters. But the service was shut down just three months after due to a deadly accident. On May 16th, 1977, a rotor blade broke off a helicopter, after landing gear failed on the front and the helicopter toppled over. The blade hit four people on the landing pad waiting to board, with three killed on impact. The previous passengers had already disembarked but the crew was still inside the helicopter. 15 to 20 people were in a line on the roof waiting to get onto the aircraft.

    Photo via FDNY

    The blade fell down the side of a building and hit a window of the Pan Am Building on the 36th floor. From there, it split into two, with one part killing a pedestrian from the Bronx on Madison Avenue, while she was waiting for the bus. More pieces of the rotor blades were found as much as four blocks north from the building.

    Photo via NY Daily News

    It was, by all accounts, a gruesome sight both atop the helipad and on the street below. The New York Daily News had a rather vivid account of the bloodshed. The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the accident was caused by “metal fatigue” on the helicopter.

    Photo via NY Daily News

  13. #13


    re-envisioned, glass-clad renderings of the MetLife Building
    Jeez- the majority of those reclads are frighteningly gawd awful
    I can understand the reasoning , but can't get behind those results.
    Last edited by scumonkey; March 19th, 2016 at 08:47 PM.

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