NYC Plane Crash Was All Too Typical

Yankees pitcher, teacher probably died as result of common pilot errors.


A staunch defender of private flying, Landsburg says the safety records of such flights are good and getting better. But he bluntly highlights several well-known trouble spots -- which nearly always involve "lack of either skill or judgment" by pilots -- in an annual accident summary.

"If you go flying with me on a nice sunny day and we decide to take a cross-country trip, I would suggest that your odds are very good of getting where you're going," Landsburg says. "If you have to get over the Rocky Mountains in January in a small plane that is not certified for icing conditions, your risks have just gone up exponentially."

Because as many as nine out of 10 private plane accidents are attributed to human error, Landsburg's group and the Federal Aviation Administration are focusing safety efforts on better educating pilots about the issues linked to the most fatal accidents, such as aggressive maneuvers, bad weather and maintaining control.

NTSB Chairman Mark Rosenker says the Lidle accident is typical of what the agency sees dozens of times a year. "It is probably the most common fatal accident type," he says.

The board's files are filled with examples of pilots getting into trouble in small planes because they weren't familiar with the aircraft, maneuvered too aggressively or lost control. Among them:

*Jeff Ellingham, 42, crashed his Globe GC-1B, a 1946-vintage aircraft, near Cypress, Texas, on Aug.6, 2005, after allowing it to slow down too much, the NTSB ruled. Ellingham had flown for 639 hours, but only 120 hours in the Globe. Ellingham and his brother-in-law, David Hines, 43, died.

*Christopher Copple, 43, had logged 1,052 hours of experience piloting small planes over Alaska. When he agreed to fly three friends to a remote river for fishing, he borrowed a Cessna 170B, a slightly larger plane than he was accustomed to. The NTSB calculated that he had only 14 hours in the plane.

Investigators ruled that he was flying too slowly over a primitive landing strip on July 30, 2004. The plane rolled over and nosed into the ground, killing all four aboard.

*Gerald Miller, 60, had amassed 185 hours in the brief time he'd been a pilot but only 12 in his newly purchased Cirrus SR-22, a higher-performance version of the plane Lidle owned. He was flying with a flight instructor on Sept. 10, 2004, when the plane slowed to a dangerous speed and plummeted. The crash killed Miller and seriously injured his instructor.

Love of aviation

Lidle and Stanger, who lived near each other in Southern California, learned to fly over the hillsides east of Los Angeles. Lidle, 34, started flight training after the 2005 baseball season and picked Stanger, 26, who worked at Brackett Field in La Verne, Calif., as his teacher.

Stanger praised his student, telling The New York Times a month before the accident that Lidle had an uncommon ability to remain calm and do the right thing during simulated emergencies.

Stanger began working on planes as a teenager, worked his way up to fully certified mechanic and later earned a license to teach flying.

"I called him the airport rat," said Jason Paul, 23, who learned to fly under Stanger's tutelage and became his friend. "He did everything" -- from changing oil to installing avionics, from teaching novices to flying big planes himself. "There wasn't anything in aviation he didn't do."

Paul and others say Stanger was a cautious pilot who emphasized safety checklists to his students and flew the same way himself.

"He was not your average Sunday flier," says Robin Howard, owner of Howard Aviation in La Verne, which had employed Stanger on and off since he was 17. "And he was good at it. I would not use someone who is not a good pilot."

Stanger had once flown the same route up the East River several years ago after buying a plane in the New York area, Paul says.

Aside from that earlier trip, Stanger had little or no experience flying in the New York area. Though he had accumulated thousands of hours in planes, he also apparently had few hours in the Cirrus, according to Howard. Lidle had a total of only 88 hours and was "pilot in command" for 47 of those, according to the NTSB.

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