Lidle, Passenger Die in NYC Plane Crash

Investigators combed through debris inside a luxury high-rise apartment Thursday for clues to why a small airplane with New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle aboard slammed into the building, killing the pitcher and a flight instructor.

National Transportation Safety Board member Debbie Hersman said federal investigators arrived Wednesday evening and found debris scattered everywhere.

Aircraft parts and headsets were on the ground. The propeller broke apart from the engine, which landed on the floor of an apartment. The bodies fell to the street.

"There's a significant amount of damage," Hersman told CNN Thursday morning.

She said investigators were taking fuel samples, looking at maintenance records and examining Lidle's flight log book, found in the wreckage - "anything that will give us a clue about what happened."

Lidle talked often of his love of flying, describing it his escape from the stress of professional baseball and a way to see the world in a different light.

"No matter what's going on in your life, when you get up in that plane, everything's gone," Lidle told an interviewer with Comcast Sportsnet out of Philadelphia while flying his plane in April.

Lidle boarded the same single-engine plane Wednesday afternoon with an instructor for what was supposed to be a leisurely flight around New York City. They took off from a suburban New Jersey airport, circled around the Statue of Liberty, flew past lower Manhattan and north above the East River.

But something went wrong just moments after passing above the 59th Street Bridge. The plane smashed into a luxury high-rise condominium building on the Upper East Side, killing Lidle and the other passenger and showering fiery debris on the sidewalk and street below, officials said.

The crash briefly raised fears of another terrorist attack in this scarred city.

"It was very scary," said Diane Tarantini, who was sitting in an outdoor courtyard across the street when she heard a loud boom and saw a big fireball that reminded her of Sept. 11. "It brings back all these memories about planes hitting buildings, the terror of that day in September."

Lidle's passport was found on the street, according to a federal official, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. It was not immediately clear who was at the controls or who was the second person aboard. There was no official confirmation of Lidle's death from city officials, who still needed to identify the bodies.

A federal official, speaking on condition of anonymity, had said that authorities had a report that the plane sent a distress call to the Federal Aviation Administration before the crash.

But Hersman said at a late-night news conference that, "we've asked the FAA and they have reviewed some aircraft-control tapes. At this point they have no indication that there was a mayday call."

The flight lasted about 20 minutes, with a 911 call about a fire coming in around 2:45 p.m.

The Cirrus SR20 was manufactured in 2002 and purchased earlier this year, Hersman said. The small aircraft has four seats and is equipped with a parachute designed to let it float to earth in case of a mishap. The parachute apparently did not engage after the crash.

NTSB records indicate a total of 12 accidents involving the Cirrus SR20, first flown as a prototype in 1995. In two accidents this year, pilots reported engines losing power.

The plane that crashed Wednesday was registered to Lidle, FAA records show.

Lidle had repeatedly assured reporters in recent weeks that flying was safe and that the Yankees - who were traumatized in 1979 when catcher Thurman Munson was killed in the crash of a plane he was piloting - had no reason to worry.

His teammates were stunned at the news of the crash.

"Right now, I am really in a state of shock," Jason Giambi said in a statement. "I have known Cory and his wife Melanie for over 18 years and watched his son grow up. We played high school ball together and have remained close throughout our careers. We were excited to be reunited in New York this year and I am just devastated to hear this news."

On Sunday, the day after the Yankees were eliminated from the playoffs, Lidle cleaned out his locker at Yankee Stadium and said he planned to fly back to California, making a few stops. Lidle had reserved a room for Wednesday night at the historic Union Station hotel in downtown Nashville, Tenn., hotel spokeswoman Melanie Fly said.

Family and friends converged on Lidle's home in the Los Angeles suburb of Glendora, Calif., where he and his family moved about six years ago.

"This is a tragedy for everybody involved," said his mother-in-law Mary Varela, her eyes welling with tears.

Lidle's twin brother, Kevin, told CNN's "Larry King Live" the family was having a tough time.

"But what can you do? Somehow you hang in there and you get through it," he said. "I've had a lot of calls from friends and family, people calling and crying. And they've released some emotions, and I haven't done that yet. I don't know - I guess I'm in some kind of state of shock."

Lidle pitched with the Phillies before coming to the Yankees. He began his career in 1997 with the Mets and also pitched for Tampa Bay, Oakland, Toronto and Cincinnati.

Wednesday afternoon, his plane came through a hazy, cloudy sky and slammed into apartments that were 30 and 31 flights above the street, but the floors are numbered at 40 and 41, and go up to 50, even though the building is technically about 40 stories high.

The crash touched 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. Firefighters put the blaze out in less than an hour.

At least 21 people were taken to hospitals, most of them firefighters. Their conditions were not disclosed.

Dr. Parviz Benhuri said his wife, Ilana, was home when the plane hit their window, breaking the glass and spewing flames.

"She told me she saw the window coming out and she ran. She's in shock. She's lucky she made it. It's a miracle," he told The New York Times.

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. Rain started pouring 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."

The military scrambled fighter jets over New York and other major cities immediately after the crash. Adm. Timothy Keating, commander of U.S. Northern Command, told The Associated Press military officials knew it likely wasn't a terrorist act "about a half an hour after it happened."

"My first reaction when I saw an airplane going into a building in New York City was, 'Oh no, we've got another 9/11,'" he said.

Mystery writer Carol Higgins Clark, daughter of author Mary Higgins Clark, lives on the 38th floor of the building and was coming home in a cab when she saw the smoke. She described the building's residents as a mix of doctors, lawyers and writers, and people with second homes.

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Associated Press writers Pat Milton, Ron Blum, Colleen Long, Robert Tanner and Adam Goldman in New York; Robert Weller in Denver; Daisy Nguyen in Los Angeles; and Leslie Miller and Lara Jakes Jordan in Washington contributed to this report.


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