Seeking Answers In High-Rise Crash

Parts from wreckage lie nearby as investigators continue to work the scene outside a high-rise building that was struck by a small aircraft, New York, Thursday Oct. 12, 2006. AP Photos/Bebeto Matthews

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

National Transportation Safety Board member Debbie Hersman said investigators 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. On Thursday, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly identified the flight instructor as Tyler Stanger of Walnut, Calif.

Residents were allowed back into their apartments except for the 39th through 41st floors, where rooms were gutted by the fire and a six-story scorch mark marred the red brick.

"There was significant fire damage, water damage from the efforts of the emergency responders. The smell of smoke was everywhere," Hersman told Early Show co-anchor Julie Chen

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 in Philadelphia while flying his plane in April.

The small plane took off on a cloudy Wednesday afternoon at a suburban New Jersey airport, headed for New York City and took a route familiar to millions of tourists over the years: down the Hudson River to the Statue of Liberty, on to the East River and then – tragedy.

"I saw this big red ball of flames shooting out of the window, out onto the ground and everybody is running," said Marla Kaufman.

Kauffman was one of the hundreds of witnesses, CBS News national correspondent Byron Pitts reports. She had a flashback – New York City five years ago.

"You think terrorists, 9/11, right away, it was scary," she said.

While officials are certain this was an accident, investigators may have a hard time explaining how the crash happened, reports CBS News correspondent Bob Orr.

Even after 9/11, the FAA permitted small planes and helicopters to fly along the Hudson and East rivers in New York as long as pilots remained at or below 800 feet. The pilots do not need to stay in touch with air traffic controllers. The pilots are responsible for judging the weather and watching out for other aircraft, tall towers and buildings.

Investigators studying the radar data suspect the plane was trying to turn around to avoid La Guardia airport. That might be hard to confirm since the aircraft had no black boxes.

Ironically, the plane was equipped with a parachute, meant to ease it to the ground in case of engine failure. There has been no suggestion, however, that the chute came into play in this case.

The plane slammed into apartments that were 30 and 31 stories above the street, though the floors are numbered at 40 and 41. The building is about 40 stories high.

Firefighters put out the raging fire 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.

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 clear who was at the controls.

Hersman said the FAA was reviewing aircraft-control tapes at the NTSB's request, and so far had no indication of a mayday call.

The Cirrus SR20 was built in 2002 and purchased earlier this year, she said. It was registered to Lidle.

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

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 crash. Jason Giambi, who played high school baseball with Lidle and knew his family, said in a statement: "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 to California, making a few stops. Lidle had reserved a room for Wednesday night at the historic Union Station hotel in Nashville, Tenn., hotel spokeswoman Melanie Fly said.

Family and friends converged on Lidle's home in the Los Angeles suburb of Glendora, Calif.

Lidle began his career in 1997 with the Mets and also pitched for Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Oakland, Toronto and Cincinnati.

Stanger, the flight instructor, operated a flight school in La Verne, Calif., and lived nearby with his wife and young child.

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."

  • Sean Alfano

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