Enlarge This Image James Estrin/The New York Times
An aerial view of the residential high-rise building on New York City’s Upper East Side. More Photos »Multimedia Slide Show Scenes From the Crash Slide Show Plane Crashes, Neighborhood Watches Audio Eyewitness Accounts of the Crash Graphic Sequence of Events Related In Lidle, Yanks Have Extra Pitcher and Backup Pilot(September 8, 2006) Left: Fred Conrad/The New York Times; right: Justin Lane/EPA
Cory Lidle was killed in the crash at the Belaire building on Wednesday. More Photos >Enlarge This Image Keith Bedford/Reuters
The aircraft struck 524 E. 72nd Street, a 50-story condominium tower. More Photos >WNBC
Cory Lidle, a pitcher for the New York Yankees, was killed today when his small private plane crashed into a residential high-rise building on New York City’s Upper East Side, igniting several apartments before pieces of the aircraft crashed to the ground, a high-ranking city official confirmed late this afternoon.
The plane was registered to Mr. Lidle, who was a licensed pilot. At a news conference this afternoon, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that a flight instructor and a student pilot with 75 hours of experience were aboard and killed, but he would not confirm that Mr. Lidle was one of them, saying the families of the victims had not yet been notified.
“No bodies were found in the building,” the mayor said, adding that 11 firefighters were also injured in the fire.
He said that the plane left Teterboro Airport in New Jersey at about 2:30 p.m., circled the Statue of Liberty and then headed north up the East River, where it “had not violated any air traffic control rules.”
The plane then lost touch with air traffic controllers, but radar showed that the plane flew near the 59th Street Bridge, he said.
Then, at 2:42 p.m., the mayor said, authorities received a 911 call reporting a crash at a building on 72nd Street.
“It’s very tragic,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “We have to say a little prayer for those we lost, the two human beings whose lives were snuffed out.”
The aircraft struck at about the 40th or 41st floors of the building, known as the Belaire, at 524 E. 72nd St., near York Avenue. Flames shot out of the building, and smoke streamed up into the sky, visible for miles. The building was evacuated, the mayor said, but people were allowed to return later, after the fire was put out.
The National Transportation Safety Board said it would send a team of investigators from Washington this evening, to take charge of the investigation. The aircraft was not flying under the control of air traffic controllers at the time of the accident, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. As a result, the agency did not know the identity of the aircraft or its type.
Since the 1980’s, planes and helicopters have been allowed to fly over the East River, as well as the Hudson River, below 1,100 feet, without special permission. They fly under “visual flight rules,” meaning they avoid collisions by visually keeping track of other aircraft, and maneuvering to avoid conflicts. They are not required to file flight plans. They generally have transponders, devices that make them visible on radar, but they broadcast a generic code that identifies them as general aviation aircraft, rather than giving their particular identity.
The explosion after the crash, and the ensuing fire, interrupted the routine of the bustling East Side neighborhood. The Belaire has 50 floors, with several of the bottom floors housing offices for doctors and other professionals, and residences upstairs. The building is surrounded by several hospitals and medical offices.
Luis Gonzalez, 23, was one of several construction workers and others viewing plans for renovating an apartment in the Belaire when they looked out the window and saw a plane headed their way.
“It was coming right at us, directly at us at the floor where we were working on,” he said.
They could see the pilot’s face, he said, and then they saw the plane veering toward the right, as if the pilot was trying to avoid hitting them.
“The whole building shook,” he said. “Then we ran for the elevator.”
Rob Miranda, a carpenter also working in the building, was on the 46th floor and said the plane appeared to be wobbling as it approached.
“He was out of control,” Mr. Miranda said. “He was on an incline, accelerating as he passed. Then he hooked around the corner, he hit the north side of the building, and you heard a tremendous explosion.”
He said he and the other workers ran, checking the 38th and 39th floors for any people who needed to get out. As smoke quickly began filling up the rooms, they took the elevators down.
Kim Quarterman, 50, a doorman at 411 E. 70th St., said he heard a noise about 2:45 p.m.
“It sounded like a truck gearing down,” he said. “You know how a truck sounds when it’s trying not to hit something? Then I saw a cloud of smoke.”
After that, he picked up his daughter, Chablis Quarterman, 13, at a nearby school.
“My dad and I tried to get as close as we could, but by then, all you could see was smoke,” she said.
At the Belaire, Leonard Cutillo and George Acosta were waiting to see their doctor. Mr. Cutillo, who was leaning on a cane, had tears in his eyes and was shaking as he recounted what had happened.
“We’re sitting in the building, and we heard this tremendous noise and everything starts blowing out — glass, smoke, flames — and we just got out of there as quick as we could,” Mr. Cutillo said.
Laura Stern, who lives on the 27th floor of 515 East 79th Street, said she was in her living room, which has an unobstructed southern view of the Belaire.
“I saw huge flames shooting out of the Belaire,” she said at about 4 p.m. “I didn’t see the impact, but it’s huge. I can see it now. Black smoke. There’s still flames they haven’t put out. But it doesn’t look like it’s affected more than two stories.”
Alexa Lagnori, who lives across the street from the Belaire, at 525 E. 72nd Street, was in her apartment when the plane struck.
“I saw the fire and it seemed to be pouring out of five to 10 floors below,” she said.
She said firefighters responded quickly to put out the fire and comb over debris from the plane littering the ground. She got out of the building with her dog, Akira, through a back door.
“It looked as if something had hit the building very hard,” she said. “I thought at first it was a black plane, but it may have just been the smoke. It was frightening how much fire it caused.”
Mr. Lidle had been a major league pitcher for nine years.
He earned his pilot’s license during the last off-season and tried to assure everyone that his Cirrus SR20, a four-seat plane he bought for $187,000. was safe.
“The whole plane has a parachute on it,” he told The Times last month. “Ninety-nine percent of pilots that go up never have engine failure, and the 1 percent that do usually land it. But if you’re up in the air and something goes wrong, you pull that parachute, and the whole plane goes down slowly.”
Mr. Lidle is not the first Yankees player to die at the controls of an aircraft. In 1979, Thurman Munson, the Yankee catcher and team captain, was killed in the crash of a plane he was flying.
Mr. Lidle, 34, lived in West Covina, Calif., 20 miles or so east of Los Angeles. He said he loved to take to the air.
“It’s basically to bring things a little closer to reach,” he said.