Plane Slams into New York City High Rise

October 11th, 2006

From NBC News:

NEW YORK - A small plane with New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle aboard crashed into a 40-story condominium tower Wednesday on Manhattan's Upper East Side, killing two people and raining flaming debris on sidewalks, authorities said. Yankees' owner George M. Steinbrenner confirmed Lidle was one of the two dead.

A law enforcement official in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Lidle was on the plane. And Federal Aviation Administration records showed the single-engine plane was registered to the athlete.

A passport belonging to Lidle, an avid pilot who got his flying license after last year's offseason, was reportedly found on the street below the crash site. Lidle's flight instructor was also presumed dead. The law enforcement official said the plane had issued a distress call before the crash. The official said it was unknown whether Lidle was at the controls. Earlier reports had cited four bodies found; the city's medical examiner's office later confirmed only two people had died.

The FBI and the Homeland Security Department said there was no evidence it was a terrorist attack. "The initial indication is that there is a terrible accident," Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said. Nevertheless, fighter jets were sent aloft over U.S. cities as a precaution, the Pentagon said.

The plane came through a hazy, cloudy sky and hit the 20th floor of The Belaire - a red-brick tower overlooking the East River, about five miles from the World Trade Center - with a loud bang, touching 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. "This is a terrible and shocking tragedy that has stunned the entire Yankees organization. I offer my deepest condolences and prayers to his wife Melanie, and son Christopher, on their enormous loss," Steinbrenner said in a statement on Thursday.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a news conference Wednesday that the plane left from Teterboro Airport in New Jersey at 2:20 p.m. The airport is 12 miles from midtown Manhattan. Bloomberg said the city's response to the accident was "massive and quick and coordinated." He 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. Firefighters shot streams of water at the flames from the floors below and put the blaze out in less than an hour.

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. 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. "I was worried the building would explode, so I got out of there fast," said Lori Claymont, who fled an adjoining building in sweatpants.

Young May Cha, a 23-year-old Cornell University medical student, said she was walking back from the grocery store down 72nd Street when she saw an object out of the corner of her eye. "I just saw something come across the sky and crash into that building," she said. 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." "The explosion was very small. I was not threatened for my life," she added.