Experts Analyze Lidle's Fatal U-Turn

Aviation experts said Friday that inexperience, the tight airspace over the city, mechanical failure, hazy weather or a gust of wind through New York's concrete canyons could explain why Cory Lidle's plane failed to execute a U-turn and slammed into the side of a high-rise.

According to radar data, the single-engine plane appeared to be making a difficult but commonly performed left turn over a 710-yard-wide section of the river between Manhattan and Queens when it crashed Wednesday, killing the New York Yankee pitcher and his flight instructor.

The Federal Aviation Administration said it would review safety concerns about the corridor, and on Friday banned small, fixed-wing planes from flying over the river unless the pilot is in contact with air traffic control.

Much is still unknown about the crash. Investigators said they have not determined who was at the controls.

So far, the National Transportation Safety Board has said it doesn't know whether the plane had a mechanical problem. The propeller was still turning when the plane hit the building. That suggests the engine was still running. There was no indication that the pilot had issued a distress call.

Some aviation experts said that it could come down to a lack of experience by the pilots.

Lidle was new to both flying and to his plane, a Cirrus SR20. His instructor, Tyler Stanger, was a veteran pilot and teacher, but the 26-year-old Californian had limited experience flying near Manhattan.

That might have made for a less-than-perfect mix in the narrow aviation corridor just east of the city's skyscrapers, on a less-than-perfect day of low clouds and limited visibility.

Paul Czysz, professor emeritus of aeronautical engineering at St. Louis University, said the accident was probably the result of inexperience.

"He probably never should have been there in the first place," Czysz said, referring to either Lidle or his instructor. "That corridor is very heavily traveled."

The Cirrus, made of a light composite weighing only 3,000 pounds, could have easily been blown off its track during the turn by a gust of wind, Czysz said.

"The problem is that it's so light," he said. "The wind between those buildings can go 80 to 90 mph, and it could grab hold of that airplane and take control from the pilot."

Bill Waldock, aviation safety professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Arizona, said it is a plausible theory that the airplane was blown around by the wind.

"You get some real strange winds going through those canyons of buildings," Waldock said. "It's a weird area to try to maneuver airplanes in anyway."

But John Fiscus, a flight instructor who specializes in teaching pilots who to operate Cirrus aircraft, said he did not believe the turn was anything the plane or a good pilot couldn't handle routinely.

"I wouldn't call it a hard maneuver to pull off. It's just turning around," he said. "I've done that before, and it is not what I would term tight."

Fiscus noted that Lidle's plane appeared to be following common practice, operating at a normal height and at a safely medium speed when it entered the turn. Many pilots, he noted, perform the maneuver daily without mishap.

"This is the first time this has ever occurred where an aircraft has accidentally hit a building," he said.

Brian Alexander, a pilot and New York lawyer who has been involved in several cases involving Cirrus crashes, said investigators should examine closely whether mechanical problems might have caused the pilot to lose control, or made the craft unstable.

Meanwhile, investigators picked through the last of the wreckage from the crash - bits of wire and larger parts of the plane laid out Friday on a Manhattan street.

The neighborhood also was gradually returning to normal. Police said they hoped to reopen the closed-off area by the end of the day Friday.

At the end of a street, near a small park that overlooks the East River, investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board bent over the evidence, apparently trying to match up pieces to reconstruct the aircraft.

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Associated Press Writer Leslie Miller in Washington contributed to this report.


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