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Yankee Dies in Plane Crash, Official Says


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 >


More Photos >

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.

Lidle dies after plane crashes into NYC high-rise


NEW YORK -- A small plane carrying New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle and his flight instructor slammed into a 40-story apartment building Wednesday, killing both in a crash that rained flaming debris onto the sidewalks and briefly raised fears of another terrorist attack.


Elsa/Getty Images

                                                         For his career, which spanned nine years with seven teams, Lidle was 82-72 with two saves and a 4.57 ERA.


A law enforcement official in Washington said Lidle -- an avid pilot who got his license on Feb. 9 -- was aboard the single-engine aircraft when it plowed into the 30th and 31st floors of the condominium high-rise on Manhattan's Upper East Side. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said both people aboard were killed.

Lidle's passport was found on the street, according to a federal official, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. It was not immediately clear whether Lidle or his instructor, Tyler Stanger, was at the controls when the plane hit the building. Lidle had told reporters on Sunday that he was planning to get up in the air with Stanger this week to work on instrument training exercises.

Bloomberg did not confirm the names of the victims Wednesday afternoon but did say a flight instructor and a student pilot with 75 hours of experience were aboard and killed. Both bodies were found on the street below, and the plane's engine was found in one of the apartments, Bloomberg said. On Thursday, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly identified the flight instructor as Stanger.

Residents were also allowed back into their apartments Thursday, except for the 29th through 31st floors, where most of the apartments were gutted by the fire and a six-story scorch mark marred the red brick.

Federal Aviation Administration records showed the single-engine plane was registered to Lidle, who had repeatedly assured reporters in recent weeks that flying was safe and that the Yankees -- who were traumatized in 1979 when catcher Thurman Munson was killed in the crash of a plane he was piloting -- had no reason to worry.

"The flying?" the 34-year-old Lidle, who had a home near Los Angeles, told The Philadelphia Inquirer this summer. "I'm not worried about it. I'm safe up there. I feel very comfortable with my abilities flying an airplane."

"No matter what's going on in your life, when you get up in that plane, everything's gone," Lidle told an interviewer with Comcast SportsNet in Philadelphia while flying his plane in April.

The crash came just four days after the Yankees' embarrassingly quick elimination from the playoffs, during which Lidle had been relegated to the bullpen. In recent days, Lidle had taken abuse from fans on sports talk radio for saying the team was unprepared.


Jeff Gross/Getty Images                                                   An A's fan pays tribute to Lidle before Game 2 of the ALCS.


"This is a terrible and shocking tragedy that has stunned the entire Yankees organization," Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said in a statement. He offered his condolences to Lidle's wife, Melanie, and 6-year-old son.

A federal official, speaking on condition of anonymity, had said the plane issued a distress call before the crash. But National Transportation Safety Board member Debbie Hersman said at a late-night news conference that, "we've asked the FAA and they have reviewed some aircraft-control tapes. At this point they have no indication that there was a mayday call." Thursday morning, she said officials were continuing to review the tapes.

Hersman said debris was scattered everywhere at the crash scene, including aircraft parts and headsets on the ground. The propeller separated from the engine. Investigators also obtained the pilot's log book.

She said investigators were taking fuel samples, looking at maintenance records and examining Lidle's flight log book, found in the wreckage -- "anything that will give us a clue about what happened."

Hersman said Thursday afternoon investigators had recovered "all four corners" of the plane, referring to the nose, tail and both wings, as well as all control surfaces. She said there is "strong evidence" the plane's propellers were turning at the time of the crash.

The craft took off from New Jersey's Teterboro Airport at 2:21 p.m. and was in the air for about 20 minutes, authorities said. Bloomberg said Lidle and his flying companion were sightseeing and were taking a route that took them over the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Empire State Building.

The FAA said it was too early to determine what might have caused the crash.

How the plane managed to penetrate airspace over one of the most densely packed sections of New York City was not clear. The plane was unusual in that it was equipped with a parachute in case of engine failure, but there was no sign the chute was used.

The crash rattled New Yorkers' nerves five years after the Sept. 11 attacks, but the FBI and Homeland Security quickly said there was no evidence it was anything but an accident. Nevertheless, within 10 minutes of the crash, fighter jets were over several cities, including New York, Washington, Detroit, Los Angeles and Seattle, Pentagon officials said.

The plane, flying north over the East River along the usual flight corridor, came through a hazy, cloudy sky and hit The Belaire -- a red-brick tower overlooking the river -- with a loud bang. It touched off a raging fire that cast a pillar of black smoke over the city and sent flames shooting from four windows on two adjoining floors. Firefighters put the blaze out in less than an hour.

Fifteen firefighters, five civilians and one police officer were taken to New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center with injuries from the crash.

CNN reported Wednesday night that the New York Police Department deployed six shifts of officers to the crash site. The police were equipped with heavy weaponry and flotation devices because of the building's proximity to the East River.

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.

"It wasn't until I was halfway home that I started shaking. The whole memory of an airplane flying into a building and across the street from your home. It's a little too close to home," said Sara Green, 40, who lives across the street from The Belaire. "It crossed my mind that it was something bigger or the start of something bigger."

Outside Lidle's home in Glendora, Calif., neighbors and others quickly converged. Keri Pasqua, a close friend of the player's wife, and Mary Varela, Lidle's mother-in-law, told reporters that Melanie Lidle wasn't home and they weren't certain if she knew about the crash.

"This is a tragedy for everybody involved," a teary-eyed Varela said.

Kevin Lidle, Cory Lidle's twin brother, said on CNN's "Larry King Live" that he had spoken to their parents, who were "obviously having a tough time."

"But what can you do? Somehow you hang in there and you get through it," he said. "I've had a lot of calls from friends and family, people calling and crying. And they've released some emotions, and I haven't done that yet. I don't know -- I guess I'm in some kind of state of shock."

Kevin Lidle was a baseball teammate of Jeff Anderson -- the son of Jerry Anderson, who survived the crash that killed Munson -- in 2000 with the independent Somerset (N.J.) Patriots.

Stanger, the flight instructor with him, operated a flight school in La Verne, Calif., and lived nearby with his wife and young child.

On Sunday, the day after the Yankees were eliminated from the playoffs, Cory Lidle cleaned out his locker at Yankee Stadium and talked about his interest in flying.

He said he intended to fly back to California in several days and planned to make a few stops. Lidle had reserved a room for Wednesday night at the historic Union Station hotel in downtown Nashville, Tenn., hotel spokeswoman Melanie Fly said.

Lidle discussed with reporters the plane crash that killed John F. Kennedy Jr. and how he had read the accident report on the NTSB Web site.

Lidle, acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies on July 30 along with outfielder Bobby Abreu, told The New York Times last month that his four-seat Cirrus SR20 was safe.

"The whole plane has a parachute on it," Lidle said. "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."

NTSB records indicate a total of 12 accidents involving the Cirrus SR20, first flown as a prototype in 1995. In two accidents this year, pilots reported engines losing power.

Lidle pitched 1 1/3 innings in the fourth and final game of the AL Division Series against theDetroit Tigers and gave up three earned runs but was not the losing pitcher. He had a 12-10 regular-season record with a 4.85 ERA.

He pitched with the Phillies before coming to the Yankees. He began his career in 1997 with the Mets and also pitched for Tampa Bay, Oakland, Toronto and Cincinnati.

Lidle's $6.3 million, two-year contract, agreed to with the Phillies in November 2004, contained a provision saying the team could get out of paying the remainder if he were injured or killed while flying a plane. Because the regular season is over, Lidle had already received the full amount.

After the Yankees' defeat at the hands of the Tigers, Lidle called in to WFAN sports talk radio two days before the crash to defend manager Joe Torre and said: "I want to win as much as anybody. But what am I supposed to do? Go cry in my apartment for the next two weeks."

Lidle was an outcast among some teammates throughout his career because he became a replacement player in 1995, when major-leaguers were on strike.

Although Lidle was a replacement player, his family is entitled to complete pension benefits and other union contract provisions. The only thing Lidle and other replacement players do not receive is a cut of the union's licensing (from baseball cards, fantasy sports, etc).

Among the baseball stars killed in plane crashes were Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Roberto Clemente, killed Dec. 31, 1972, at age 38 while en route to Nicaragua to aid earthquake victims; and Munson, the Yankee catcher killed Aug. 2, 1979, at age 32 in Canton, Ohio.

"It's just sadder than sad," said New York Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson, who was Lidle's pitching coach in Oakland. "It's horrific. It's almost unbelievable. It's a surreal moment."

Young May Cha, a 23-year-old Cornell University medical student, said she was walking back from the grocery store down East 72nd Street when she saw something come across the sky and crash into the building. Cha said there appeared to be smoke coming from behind the aircraft, and "it looked like it was flying erratically for the short time that I saw it."

Former NTSB director Jim Hall said in a telephone interview he does not understand how a plane could get so close to a New York City building after Sept. 11.

"We're under a high alert and you would assume that if something like this happened, people would have known about it before it occurred, not after," Hall said.

Mystery writer Carol Higgins Clark, daughter of author Mary Higgins Clark, lives in the building but was not home at the time. She described the building's residents as a mix of actors, doctors, lawyers, writers and people with second homes.

Lillian Snower Beacham, 52, said her 36th-floor apartment smelled of heavy smoke, and shattered glass and other debris covered her windowsills. Beacham saw the plane hit her building four floors above her, then watched pieces of the plane fall to the ground. Her first thoughts were of terrorism.

"That's why I took nothing and ran. That's exactly the first thought you have," said Beacham. "It's just surreal, absolutely surreal. The images of 9/11 come straight at you. You just run."

Despite initial fears of a terrorist attack, all three New York City-area airports continued to operate normally, FAA spokesman Jim Peters said. The White House said neither President Bush nor Vice President Dick Cheney was moved to secure locations.

The Belaire was built in the late 1980s and is situated near Sotheby's auction house. It has 183 apartments, many of which sell for more than $1 million.

Several lower floors are occupied by doctors and administrative offices, as well as guest facilities for family members of patients at the Hospital for Special Surgery, hospital spokeswoman Phyllis Fisher said. No patients were in the high-rise, Fisher said.

New York Mets third base coach Manny Acta said he lives in The Belaire. Unsure whether he would be able to get into the building, Acta said the Mets found him a place to stay.

"It's not just about him. It's about the pilot, the co-pilot and everyone else in the building to think about," Acta said.

Rob Manfred, executive vice president of MLB, told ESPN's Karl Ravech that neither of Wednesday night's championship series games would be postponed because of the crash and Lidle's death. However, Game 1 of the NLCS between the St. Louis Cardinals and Mets was postponed because of a steady rain.

Name: Cory Fulton Lidle Born: March 22, 1972 Major league seasons: 9 Career statistics: 82-72 won-lost record, 4.57 ERA Major league teams: New York Mets, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Oakland Athletics, Toronto Blue Jays, Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies, New York Yankees Wife: Melanie Children: Son, Christopher Taylor, born Sept. 18, 2000 Biographical information: 1990 graduate of California's South Hills High School, where he was a teammate of Yankee Jason Giambi and was an all-state selection his senior year. Has a twin brother, Kevin, who played minor-league baseball. Is a relative of Robert Fulton, inventor of the steamboat.

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