Cory Lidle was a certificated private pilot flying an advanced airplane with his instructor. How did they collide with a Manhattan apartment building? This aviation accident report re-creates the flight in a simulator and evaluates the factors leading up the tragic accident.
UPDATE: we have more accurate weather data and may re-shoot parts of the video to show low cloud ceilings and visibility. This is yet another reason Lidle's flight was different than Plaza Flights: we always have at least 2500' ceiling and 6+ miles visibility.
WASHINGTON, May 1 — The crash that killed Cory Lidle, the Yankees pitcher, and his flight instructor in Manhattan on Oct. 11 was caused by "inadequate planning, judgment, and airmanship" by the two men, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded today.
Mr. Lidle and his instructor, Tyler Stanger, could have safely completed their U-turn over the East River and avoided hitting an apartment building if they had either kept their turn very sharp from beginning to end, or given up on making it within legal limits, leveled the wings, maintained altitude, and flown over the buildings on the Manhattan side, board officials said.
They might have faced penalties from the Federal Aviation Administration, but "they'd be alive today to explain why they had to do that," said Mark V. Rosenker, the chairman of the board.
The two men took off from Teterboro Airport on a sightseeing flight in Mr. Lidle's new Cirrus SR-20, a single-engine plane. They flew down the Hudson River and around the Statue of Liberty, then up the East River. Under rules in place at the time, they could fly the whole route without advance permission, as long as they stayed over the river and below 1,100 feet. They could have requested permission to stray over the shore or continue up the East River back to the Hudson if they had radioed the tower at La Guardia Airport.
Since then, the F.A.A. has temporarily revoked the special exemption for the East River, so that permission is now needed to fly it in a fixed-wing airplane like the Cirrus. (Seaplanes and helicopters are still exempt.) The board recommended today that the change be made permanent.
A lawyer representing the Lidle and Stanger families, who are suing Cirrus, said the problem was that a flight control had locked up and forced the plane into an undesired turn. But board investigators said they found no evidence of any pre-crash problems with the plane.
Mr. Lidle received his pilot's license in February of last year, and the board did not resolve whether Mr. Stanger was actually providing flight instruction, or who was manipulating the controls. But Tom Haueter, the director of the office of air safety, said that as the owner-operator, Mr. Lidle was ultimately responsible.
One problem was that the plane did not begin its turn from the eastern bank of the river; instead, it was about halfway between the Queens shore and Roosevelt Island. According to Lorenda Ward, the investigator in charge, their starting point gave them an available radius of about 1,750 feet, but if they had started on the eastern bank, they would have had about 2,100 feet.
A bigger factor was that the plane came up the right-hand side of the river and turned left at a time when the wind was blowing from the east — in this case, the right — at about 15 miles an hour. That made the turn wider. If the two men had come up the left — or Manhattan — shore and turned right, the wind would have made the turn easier.
Ms. Ward said that from the starting point they chose, making the turn over the river would have required banking the wings at about 50 degrees, very steep for a private plane. Had they made the turn to the right, it would have required a bank angle of only about 30 degrees, she said.
Because it was a private plane, the Cirrus did not carry a cockpit voice recorder or flight data recorder, and some information that would have been stored in the plane's electronic instruments was destroyed in the crash, investigators said. But the plane appeared to have entered the turn at an angle that was almost steep enough, leveled out slightly, and then turned more steeply.
The two men had completed about three-quarters of the turn when they reached the Manhattan shore, the investigators said. Their bank angle, leaning back toward Queens, would have partly obscured the Manhattan apartment buildings.