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NTSB blames pilot, passenger in Lidle crash

New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle and his flight instructor, Tyler Stanger, were blamed Tuesday for flying Lidle's small plane into a 50-story New York City building in October, killing them both.
/ Source: news services

New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle and his flight instructor, Tyler Stanger, were blamed Tuesday for flying Lidle's small plane into a 50-story New York City building in October, killing them both.

The National Transportation Safety Board never determined who was at the controls of the single-engine Cirrus SR 20 before it slammed into the Manhattan residential tower.

The crash raised alarming questions about aviation security five years after the Sept. 11 hijacked plane attacks on the World Trade Center that killed nearly 3,000 people. "It was a plane going into a building. It brought back a lot of fears from 9/11," said safety board member Deborah Hersman.

The global positioning device and cockpit display unit were too badly damaged to reveal any information. There was no cockpit voice recorder because they are not required in small, privately owned planes. No mechanical problems with the aircraft were found.

The board in its final report placed high importance on Lidle's inexperience as well as the pair's airmanship, questionable decision-making and inadequate preparation.

"The pilots placed themselves in a precarious situation that could have been prevented by better judgment and planning," said Mark Rosenker, the safety board's chairman.

Pair may have been unfamiliar with plane
Radar images and other data released soon after the Oct. 11 crash showed the two may not have been familiar with critical performance aspects of Lidle's newly acquired aircraft. They were clearly unfamiliar with the sight-seeing course they chose as well as the practices commonly used by aviators flying that route, the safety board found.

The two were not required to file a flight plan before leaving Teterboro, N.J., or maintain radio contact with air controllers for navigating around Manhattan and north along the narrow East River corridor.

The plane lost altitude and crashed while trying to execute a tight turn off the river in stiff winds. Impact occurred at about 500 feet. Three people on the ground were hurt by falling debris.

The safety board said the pilots did not aggressively bank the plane throughout the turn nor did they use the full width of the river when starting the turn. Investigators said the two should have been aware of any need to compensate for winds as well as their position in relation to the river.

Investigators said the two men had other options for safely exiting their river course -- even at the last minute. For instance, they could have climbed to a different altitude or requested a different flight path from controllers at nearby LaGuardia airport.

Control of plane critical to estate
The NTSB did release some preliminary documents, identifying Lidle as the pilot and Stanger the passenger, but the papers provided no proof of who was at the controls of Lidle’s plane when it crashed.

That issue is critical to the ballplayer’s wife and young son, who filed suit against insurer MetLife Inc. claiming she is owed $1 million under Major League Baseball’s benefit plan.

That plan, however, contains an exclusion clause for an aircraft incident in which the player is “acting in any capacity other than as a passenger,” a phrase that would appear to bar Lidle’s family from collecting anything more than the $450,000 basic life insurance benefit.

The collision and explosion of the plane destroyed several apartments in the building. One resident, a dentist, filed a $7 million lawsuit against the Lidle estate.

The Lidle and Stanger families have filed suit against the manufacturers of the plane and certain components.

FAA restrictions
After the accident, the Federal Aviation Administration temporarily ordered small-fixed wing planes not to fly over the river, which runs along Manhattan’s East Side, unless the pilot was in contact with air traffic controllers.

According to NTSB documents, the FAA plans to make that restriction permanent.

Small planes could previously fly below 1,100 feet along the river without filing flight plans or checking in with air traffic control. Lidle’s plane had flown between 500 and 700 feet above the river.

At Yankee Stadium, Lidle’s locker will remain unoccupied all season, and his widow and 6-year-old son threw out ceremonial first pitches on Opening Day.