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
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
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
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
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
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
"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.