NEW YORK – A small plane carrying New York Yankee Cory Lidle slammed into a 50-story skyscraper Wednesday, apparently killing the pitcher and a second person in a crash that rained flaming debris onto the sidewalks and briefly raised fears of another terrorist attack.
A law enforcement official in Washington said Lidle – an avid pilot who got his license during last year’s off-season – was aboard the single-engine aircraft when it issued a distress signal and plowed into the 30th and 31st floors of the high-rise on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said both people aboard were killed.
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 immediately clear who was at the controls and who was the second person aboard.
Federal Aviation Administration records showed the plane was registered to Lidle, who 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.
"The flying?" the 34-year-old Lidle, who had a home near Los Angeles, told The Philadelphia Inquirer this summer. "I’m not worried about it. I’m safe up there. I feel very comfortable with my abilities flying an airplane."
The crash came just four days after the Yankees’ embarrassingly quick elimination from the playoffs, during which Lidle had been relegated to the bullpen. In recent days, Lidle had taken abuse from fans on sports talk radio for saying the team was unprepared.
"This is a terrible and shocking tragedy that has stunned the entire Yankees organization," Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said in a statement. He offered his condolences to Lidle’s wife, Melanie, and 6-year-old son.
The federal official said the plane had issued a distress call before the crash. The craft took off from New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport about 2:30 p.m. and was in the air for barely 15 minutes, authorities said. Bloomberg said Lidle and his flying companion were sightseeing and were taking a route that took them over the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Empire State Building.