Terrorism Not A Factor In NYC Plane Crash

NEW YORK (AP) - It was a flight above all the usual

Manhattan-area landmarks - Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge,

Empire State Building - by a New York Yankee who felt he left his

problems on the ground whenever he stepped into his plane.

"No matter what's going on in your life, when you get up in

that plane, everything's gone," pitcher Cory Lidle told a Comcast

SportsNet interviewer while flying his plane in April.

Moments after passing above the 59th Street Bridge, Lidle's

single-engine plane disappeared from the radar. And just 13 minutes

after takeoff, the plane slammed into a 40-story condominium tower

above Manhattan's tony Upper East Side, killing Lidle and his

flight instructor. The crash filled luxury apartments with flames

and scattered burning metal on the sidewalks below.

Five years and one month after the Sept. 11 attacks, New Yorkers

felt a shudder of fear with word that a plane had crashed into a

building. They would later realize the crash more closely resembled

another tragedy, much smaller but still keenly felt: the 1979 death

of Yankees star Thurman Munson, in a small plane Munson was


Lidle's passport was found on the street, according to a federal

official, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of

anonymity. There was no official confirmation of Lidle's death from

city officials.

The cause of the crash was unknown Wednesday but there was

apparently enough time to send a distress call.

"A sightseeing trip," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a news

conference after the four-seat aircraft crashed between the 30th

and 31st floor of a condominium where apartments sell for more than

$1 million.

Two residents of the building barely escaped with their lives

from an adjoining apartment after the plane exploded on contact,

sending thick black smoke above the city skyline as a four-alarm

fire raged high above 72nd Street.

"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 and

6-year-old son.

Bloomberg said a flight instructor and a student pilot with 75

hours of experience were aboard and killed. The pair had circled

the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor before heading uptown.

Both bodies were found on the street below, and the plane's engine

was found in one of the apartments, Bloomberg said.

According to a federal official, speaking to The Associated

Press on condition of anonymity, the plane sent a distress call

before the crash. The craft had taken off from a New Jersey airport

at 2:29 p.m., with a 911 call reporting the fire coming in 13

minutes later.

Fifteen firefighters, five civilians and one police officer were

taken to New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical

Center with injuries from the crash.

A federal aviation official, speaking on condition of anonymity

because the investigation was continuing, said the plane was a

Cirrus SR20 - an aircraft equipped with a parachute designed to let

it float to earth in case of a mishap. There was no sign the chute

was used.

On Sunday, the day after the Yankees were eliminated from the

playoffs, Lidle cleaned out his locker at Yankee Stadium and talked

about his interest in flying. He explained to reporters the process

of getting a pilot's license, and said he intended to fly back to

California in several days and planned to make a few stops.

Lidle, 34, a nine-year major league veteran, came to the Yankees

from the Philadelphia Phillies in a late-season trade. The

journeyman pitched for seven teams in compiling an 82-72 lifetime


Large crowds gathered at the crash scene, with many people in

tears and others trying to reach loved ones by cell phone. Rain

started pouring at the scene at around 4 p.m., 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 was

walking along 72nd Street. "There was fire, debris ... The

explosion was very small."

Cha said it appeared the plane was "flying erratically" before

it slammed into The Belaire Condo.

"I was worried the building would explode, so I got out of

there fast," said Lori Claymont, who fled the adjoining building

in sweat pants.

Mystery writer Carol Higgins Clark, daughter of author Mary

Higgins Clark, lives in the building and was coming home in a cab

when she saw the smoke.

"Thank goodness I wasn't at my apartment writing at the time,"

she said. She described the building's residents as a mix of

actors, doctors, lawyers and writers, and people with second homes.

The crash struck fear in a city devastated by the attacks of

Sept. 11 five years ago. Witnesses said sirens echoed across the

east side of Manhattan as emergency workers rushed to the scene.

The crash triggered a loud bang. Broken glass and debris were

strewn around the neighborhood.

Fighter planes were scrambled over several cities across the

country in the aftermath of the crash, despite the quick assurances

that it was nothing more than an accident.

Richard Drutman, a professional photographer who lives in the

building, said he was speaking on the telephone when he felt the

building shake.

"There was a huge explosion. I looked out my window, and saw

what appeared to be pieces of wings, on fire, falling from the

sky," said Drutman, who quickly exited the building with his


The address of the building is 524 E. 72nd Street - a 40-story

condominium tower built in the late 1980s between York Avenue and

FDR Drive. The Belaire Condo, developed by William Zeckendorf Jr.,

has 183 apartments.

Several lower floors of the building are occupied by doctors and

administrative offices, as well as guest facilities for family

members of patients at the Hospital for Special Surgery, which

specializes in orthopedic operations.