NTSB Confirmation: Lidle's Plane Crashed Turning to Avoid LGA Airspace

The National Transportation Safety Board issued a detailed update this afternoon on its investigation into the October 11 crash of a light plane that killed Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle and his flying instructor, Tyler Stanger. The update fills in some gaps while confirming the broad outline of the tragedy as it has already been reported: The two — and the NTSB still doesn't know which of them was actually piloting the Cirrus SR-20, and it probably never will, NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway says — were on a jaunt up the East River and attempted a U-turn to the left to avoid restricted airspace around La Guardia.

Lidle and Stanger had a maximum of 2,100 feet to make the turn, but only if the full width of the river had been used. In fact, radar data shows that the plane was nearer to Roosevelt Island than Queens, reducing the available turning space. A light wind from the east would have caused the plane to drift toward Manhattan, putting it 400 feet closer to the tall buildings of the Upper East Side. Here the report gets technical: "At an airspeed of 97 knots, this turn would have required a constant bank angle of 53 degrees and a loading of 1.7 Gs on the airplane." This is quite a tight pivot, and if the pilots had started out more gently, they would have needed to turn more steeply as they neared Manhattan, putting the plane in danger of stalling, the NTSB says.

The update, detailed though it is, is not a conclusion about what caused the crash. Two GPS units were recovered and sent to the manufacturer for analysis, and the NTSB will attempt to retrieve more data from a memory chip in the controls. Investigators are also studying several cockpit instruments. Also, some Coast Guard video apparently shows the plane — with tail number N929CD — crashing into the 30th floor of the building on East 72nd Street. The video is currently being enhanced, the NTSB says.

A graphic of the plane's radar tracks is available here.

Robert Davey