Questions Linger About NYC Plane Crash

Cory Lidle points to a landmark as he pilots a flight over the Gulf Coast near Clearwater, Fla., during a break from spring training in February 2006.
AP/Bucks County Courier Times
National Transportation Safety Board investigators believe the propellers were turning when Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle's plane collided with a Manhattan building, but some say the plane had gone into a stall.

The plane started making a U-turn about a quarter-mile from a crop of residential towers, killing Lidle and his flight instructor. Such a turn in the narrow East River corridor would be difficult in a Cirrus SR20 for anyone, but especially for relatively inexperienced pilots like Lidle and his flight instructor, 26-year-old Tyler Stanger — both from California, reports CBS News correspondent Randall Pinkston.

Lidle, who was 34, recently obtained his pilot's license and said he viewed flying as an escape from the stress of professional baseball.

"They shouldn't have gone flying in the New York saturated airspace, given their level of inexperience," said pilot Stephen Cohen.

"You can see how narrow the river is in this area, that's what creates the problem," veteran helicopter pilot Pete Zanglunghi told Pinkston.

Lidle was in a steep left turn, and the last recorded ground speed of the plane was 112 miles per hour, sources tell CBS News transportation correspondent Bob Orr — perilously close to the stall speed when the pilot is in a steep bank.

If the plane stalled, that would help explain why the pilots seemingly had no control in the final seconds of flight. The radar track clearly shows the northbound plane beginning a 180-degree turn back to the south over the East River. Just before impact, the plane turns erratically back to the north.

Halfway up the river, pilots are forced to make a u-turn to avoid entering airspace for nearby LaGuardia Airport.

"They were making such an abrupt turn, the tighter your turn, it makes your stall speed increase," said Zanglungi.

The river route is heavily used for helicopter sightseeing and business transportation trips. FAA spokeswoman Laura J. Brown said Thursday the agency has decided to review guidelines and flight restrictions.

Much of the airspace over the rivers that encircle Manhattan is unrestricted for small aircraft flying under 1,100 feet, a little lower than the Empire State Building. Small planes and helicopters beneath that ceiling aren't required to file flight plans or check in with air traffic controllers, as long as they are over water.

"I am sure they will look closely at that East River corridor as to whether or not fixed-wing airplanes should be in that area," Phil Boyer, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, said on CBS News' The Early Show.

"This is like bicycles on the interstate. We don't allow bicycles on the interstate because we have certain transit corridors that are too busy to be slowed by people who don't have the proper equipment," former Department of Transportation inspector general Mary Schiavo told Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm. "In significant air traffic corridors, you have to get the bicycles off the interstate."

Who was at the controls could make a difference of $1.05 million to his beneficiaries. The Major League Players Association life insurance plan contains an exclusion for "any incident related to travel in an aircraft ... while acting in any capacity other than as a passenger," reports CBS News correspondent Jim Chenevey.

While Lidle wasn't a member of the Major League Baseball Players Association licensing plan because he was a replacement player during the 1994-95 strike, the New York Yankees pitcher was covered by the union's benefit plan.

The plan calls for a $450,000 life insurance benefit and has an accidental death benefit of $1.05 million. The latter has the exclusion for piloting an airplane.

Lidle is survived by his wife, Melanie, and 6-year-old son, Christopher. The person he designated as his beneficiary was not immediately known.

Workers in hard hats meanwhile continued collecting pieces of the wreckage and placing the charred debris neatly on a silver-colored tarp in the bed of a pickup truck as neighborhood children gathered to gawk at the jagged and twisted metal, glass shards and wheels.

Crews recovered the nose, wings, tail and instrument panel of the four-seat Cirrus SR20, as well as a hand-held GPS device. The workers conducted an exhaustive, floor-by-floor sweep of the building, including terraces and ledges, Hersman said.

The flight began at a suburban New Jersey airport around 2:20 p.m. Wednesday carrying Lidle and Stanger.

More details emerged about the flight instructor. Stanger, 26, operated a flight school in La Verne, Calif., and lived with his wife and young child in California.

He and Lidle apparently planned to fly from New York to California this week.

"They were going to fly back together. It was right after the (Yankees') loss to Detroit," said Dave Conriguez, who works at the airport coffee shop in California that Stanger frequented. "Tyler's such a great flight instructor that I never gave it a second thought. It was just, 'See you in a week.'"