NTSB still doesn't know who was piloting plane

Updated: May 1, 2007, 3:03 PM ET
Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle and his flight instructor did not realize their misjudgment of a U-turn until it was too late to avoid their fatal New York City plane crash, investigators said Tuesday.

They had several options in how they handled that maneuver, the probe found.

In presenting their findings, National Transportation Safety Board members said they still didn't know whether Lidle or his flight instructor Tyler Stanger was piloting the plane in the Oct. 11, 2006 crash.

Both were killed when the Cirrus SR-20, owned by Lidle, slammed into a high-rise apartment building. The NTSB declared Tuesday that the cause was "inadequate judgment, planning and airmanship" by Lidle and Stanger.

The Lidle and Stanger families are suing the plane's manufacturer, and their lawyer criticized the NTSB's conclusions.

"It's not surprising, the Safety Board always blames the pilot in an accident," said the lawyer, Todd Macaluso. The families fault the plane's steering mechanism, though the NTSB found no evidence of system, structure or engine malfunction.

Investigator Lorenda Ward told board members that the turn above the East River could have been made safely if the plane had begun the turn further east or banked harder in the turn.

NTSB Chairman Mark Rosenker said the pilots had a third option: If they'd risen briefly into restricted air space above the Manhattan skyline, "they'd be alive today to explain why they had to do that."

NTSB investigators said the pilots apparently did not factor in a 13-knot wind, pushing the plane toward Manhattan as it turned.

As the plane drifted toward Manhattan, the pilot sought to correct the turn but instead lost altitude, possibly because the engine stalled, the investigator Ward said.

"The increase in bank angle was too late," Ward said.

Lidle, a 34-year-old right-hander, died days after finishing the baseball season. Investigators have had surprisingly little hard evidence to go on in reviewing the accident that killed him.

The global positioning device and cockpit display unit were too badly damaged to provide any information. There was no cockpit voice recorder because they are not required in small, privately owned planes.

The issue of who was at the controls is critical to the ballplayer's wife and young son, who filed suit against insurer MetLife Inc., claiming she is owed $1 million under Major League Baseball's benefit plan.

That plan, however, contains an exclusion clause for an aircraft incident in which the player is "acting in any capacity other than as a passenger," a phrase that would appear to bar Lidle's family from collecting anything more than the $450,000 basic life insurance benefit.

Lidle and Stanger had departed from a New Jersey airport for a midday trip past the Statue of Liberty and north up the East River. The plane ran into trouble attempting to turn around and head back south.

After the accident, the Federal Aviation Administration temporarily ordered small, fixed-wing planes not to fly over the river, which runs along Manhattan's East Side, unless the pilot is in contact with air traffic controllers.

The NTSB recommended Tuesday that the ban be made permanent, and the FAA has already indicated its desire to do so.

Small planes could previously fly below 1,100 feet along the river without filing flight plans or checking in with air traffic control. Lidle's plane had flown between 500 and 700 feet above the river.

The collision and explosion of the plane destroyed several apartments in the building. One resident, a dentist, filed a $7 million lawsuit against the Lidle estate.

At Yankee Stadium, Lidle's locker will remain unoccupied all season, and his widow and 6-year-old son threw out ceremonial first pitches on Opening Day.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press