Cause of Yankee pitcher's plane crash into high-rise a mystery - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

10/12/06

Cause of Yankee pitcher's plane crash into high-rise a mystery

Lidle, who joined the Yankees just two months ago, is survived by his wife and son. Lidle, who joined the Yankees just two months ago, is survived by his wife and son.
The impact and ensuing fire left several stories of the building charred. No one inside was hurt. The impact and ensuing fire left several stories of the building charred. No one inside was hurt.
Smoke billows from the condo building Wednesday after the small airplane slammed into it. Smoke billows from the condo building Wednesday after the small airplane slammed into it.

NEW YORK (CNN) -- What caused a small plane carrying New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle and another person to slam into a 50-story Manhattan condo building, killing both, is still not known.

A federal investigator said late Wednesday that reports of a mayday call from the plane could not be confirmed.

The plane hit the middle of the high-rise on the East River and ignited an inferno inside at least one apartment Wednesday. Nobody was hurt in the fire and the building was safely evacuated.

Yankees owner George Steinbrenner confirmed that Lidle was aboard the Cirrus Design SR-20 four seater, saying in a statement that the "terrible and shocking tragedy ... has stunned the entire Yankees organization."

"I offer my deep condolences and prayers to his wife, Melanie, and son, Christopher, on their enormous loss," Steinbrenner said.

Yankees manager Joe Torre called Wednesday's accident "a terrible shock."

"Cory's time with the Yankees was short, but he was a good teammate and a great competitor," he said. "My heart goes out to his family."

Brother in 'state of shock'

Lidle's twin brother Kevin told CNN's "Larry King Live" that learning of his brother's death was "unbelievable," adding that he had yet to have an emotional release.

"I guess I'm in some kind of state of shock," he said. "The first thing that really hit me hard was ... I saw a picture of him [on television] and underneath it said 1972-2006. I just thought, 'That does not look right.'"

The Lidle brothers played high school baseball together, along with New York Yankee Jason Giambi and his brother, Jeremy Giambi of the Chicago White Sox.

Cory Lidle had just finished the 2006 season with a 12-10 record. Over the course of his nine-year career, the 34-year-old pitcher amassed an 82-72 record. He joined the Yankees just two months ago from the Philadelphia Phillies.

Lidle, who earned his pilot's license in February and bought the plane he was flying several months later, was born in Hollywood, California, and married Melanie Varela in 1997. The couple had a son, Christopher Taylor Lidle, now 6.

'We need to say a little prayer'

Shortly after the crash, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said a flight instructor and student were aboard the plane, and both were killed, their bodies found on the street.

"I think we need to say a little prayer for those we lost," he told reporters, without identifying the fatalities.

Bloomberg reported that the plane left Teterboro Regional Airport in New Jersey at about 2:30 p.m. and was on radar as it circled the Statue of Liberty and headed north up the East River. But radar lost contact, he said, when the plane reached the 59th Street Bridge.

"That's about what you'd expect if the plane started to descend," he said. "We have no idea how it ended up on 72nd Street. The NTSB [National Transportation Safety Board] will have to figure that out."

Twelve minutes after the plane left Teterboro, the New York Fire Department was notified of the crash. The plane hit the 39th and 40th floors of the Belaire condominium building, then crashed to the street below, setting fire to at least one unit in the building as well as burning on the ground.

Large crowds gathered in the street in the largely wealthy New York neighborhood, with many people in tears and some trying to reach loved ones by cell phone, The Associated Press reported.

Rain started pouring down around 4 p.m., according to AP, and people gazed up at the smoke and fire as they covered their heads with plastic bags; earlier, parts of the plane fell to the ground.

"I just saw something come across the sky and crash into that building," said Young May Cha, 23, a medical student who told AP she was walking along 72nd Street. "There was fire, debris ... The explosion was very small."

Another witness, Diane Tarantini, told AP, "It was very scary" as she sat in an outdoor courtyard across the street. She heard a loud boom and saw a big fireball that reminded her of September 11, AP reported. "It brings back all these memories about planes hitting buildings, the terror of that day in September."

Mayday call not confirmed

At a late Wednesday news conference, NTSB spokeswoman Debbie Hersman said most of the aircraft was outside the building with only the engine assembly inside.

The fire left 10-story char marks up the side of the building, she said.

Henry Neimark, a witness on the ground who is a pilot, said the plane was flying erratically before the crash, and it appeared the pilot lost control.

"I saw an airplane banking very, very steeply," he said. "I said to myself, 'That's very odd for a light plane like that.'" He said he then saw a "huge ball of fire."

Bloomberg said two people were in one of the apartments when the plane struck, and both ran out into the hallway. They, along with others in the building, were all safely evacuated, he said.

The fire department said the fire was out by about 4:30 p.m.

Lidle's passport was found on the street, according to a federal official, speaking to AP on condition of anonymity. It was not immediately clear who was at the controls and who was the second person aboard.

Eleven firefighters and five civilians were hurt, but not seriously.

More than 160 firefighters from 39 units responded to the four-alarm fire at 524 E. 72nd Street near the East River, which separates Manhattan from Queens. The building, built in 1988, has 183 mainly two- and three-bedroom apartments valued at as much as $1.3 million.

It took firefighters about 45 minutes to control the flames that shot from several windows about 10 stories from the top of the building. Photos from a freelance photographer showed a wing and debris from the plane on the ground. An engine was found on one of the floors, Bloomberg said.

According to the NTSB, the propellers were also in the apartment but were separated from the engine.

The NTSB had a complete investigative team at the scene by Wednesday evening.

At a news conference in Washington before traveling to New York, Hersman confirmed that the plane, with tail number N929CD, was registered to Lidle. She did not identify the pilot.

Fighter jets scrambled

The plane was flying under visual flight rules. FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said the East River is in a corridor governed by VFR, meaning that pilots must stay over the river and climb no higher than 1,100 feet. The pilot was not required to file a flight plan, she said.

North American Aerospace Defense Command Adm. Tim Keating said NORAD had put fighter aircraft into the air over some U.S. cities as a precaution, but he didn't name the cities. NORAD did the same thing after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Once it was certain the incident was not a terrorist attack, NORAD called the jets back, Keating said.

The Federal Aviation Administration, also as a precaution, banned aircraft flying below 1,500 feet and within a mile of the building after the crash, said FAA spokeswoman Diane Spitaliere. No timetable was provided on when the ban might be lifted.

Emergency vehicles jammed several blocks of smoke-filled 72nd Street after the accident was reported.

"It looks like the plane just flew into someone's living room," witness Sarah Steiner said.

"I just heard this huge, huge crash," said Tamer Faltos, who was a few buildings away when the plane crashed. "There were people screaming, a huge flame. In seconds, the firefighters and the police were here, thank God."

Lidle is the second Yankee to die in the crash of a plane he owned. Catcher Thurman Munson, the 1976 American League MVP and a nine-year veteran of the Yankees, was killed on August 2, 1979, in a crash as he practiced take-offs and landings in his new Cessna Citation jet at the Akron-Canton (Ohio) Airport.

Copyright 2006 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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