A Great Big City

October 11 in History: Small Plane Hits Manhattan High-Rise

Impact site at the Belaire Condominiums
Impact site at the Belaire Condominiums via NTSB report

A Yankees pitcher and his flight instructor were killed when their small single-engine plane crashed into an Upper East Side apartment building on October 11, 2006.

Cory Lidle, a 34-year-old who had recently been traded to the Yankees, owned the plane, but was still a new pilot. During a low flight over the East River, the plane somehow impacted the Belaire Condominiums at 524 East 72nd Street around the 32nd floor, killing both Lidle and his instructor and injuring residents in the building, pedestrians on the ground, and FDNY firefighters responding to the scene. After the crash, investigators were unable to determine whether Lidle or the passenger, a licensed flight instructor, was at the controls at the time of impact.

A CNN report from the time interviewed a pilot who witnessed the moments before the crash, and he stated that the plane was flying erratically and was banking very steeply. These details would match up with the eventual NTSB report, which stated that, while making a 180° u-turn over the East River, the pilot did not use an adequate amount of space and did not begin the turn with the plane banked sharply enough to make the turn in the space available, which, combined with winds at the time, placed the exit of the turn over Manhattan, and the plane struck the building. Although the 180° turn started higher above the water than the building's total height, attempting to make a sharp turn in limited space likely stalled the airplane and caused it to descend near the end of the turn.

In flight logs reviewed by the NTSB, Lidle had accumulated 87.8 hours total flight time in the previous 12 months, with only 3.9 hours as the pilot-in-command of a Cirrus aircraft, the type of plane flown in the crash. Official logs showed no record of any previous flight experience over the East River for either Lidle or the certified instructor in the plane.

The crash caused temporary fears of terrorism and fighter jets were scrambled to the area as a precaution, but the true cause was quickly known and the fire was extinguished within a short amount of time.

One year after the deadly crash, the New York Times gave an update on the reconstruction, saying that non-standard replacement windows had to be specially made and had delayed the project, and that 100 of the building's 137 apartments had suffered smoke damage.

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