What happened last week to Yankee Cory Lidle and his flying instructor, Tyler Stanger, is, to say the least, the worst nightmare possible for the recreational flyboy community: smashing into one of Manhattan’s skyscrapers. And now the politicians are calling for onerous new regulations too: What would happen to freedom of the skies? We spoke to two area flight instructors—Stephen Cohen of Fleet Aviation and Stephen Lind of Eagle Flight Squadron—and Jim Carroll, president of Paramus Flying Club, about what might have gone wrong and what will happen next.
SL: Soon as I heard it, I thought, Oh, no, they’re gonna close down airports, and take away airspace, and take away freedoms, Unfortunately nowadays our government doesn’t correct, it overcorrects. And it was some rich baseball player just starting to fly.
SC: This accident, like the JFK Jr. accident, was just gross pilot error. Nothing wrong with the plane, nothing wrong with the rules, nothing wrong with the airspace.
JC: It’s not Grand Prix race-car drivers that do these things. These are just regular Joes, women and men. They’re stockbrokers, just regular guys, and they feel like flying.
SC: The weather was only barely legal. The forecast was for the weather to get worse. It wasn’t a very smart thing for them to do to even take off.
JC: Pilots are tremendous rule-followers. It’s all a very, very serious experience, which is weird because it’s fun at the same time.
SC: It’s very narrow there. At the northern tip of Roosevelt Island, you need to make radio contact with La Guardia. If you’re not in radio contact, the only thing left for you to do is make a U-turn. If they’re inexperienced, if they were going too slow, when you bank very steeply, your stall speed increases, so it would appear to me that they stalled.
SL: You’d have to crank it around pretty good to stay within the river confines and out of La Guardia’s airspace. Hopefully, it wasn’t so silly that they were going so fast they just couldn’t make the turn. But if it’s a choice between busting airspace and losing your license for 60 days or hitting a building, I’d go for busting the airspace.
SC: In a very saturated corridor like the East River, your biggest worry is hitting another airplane or another helicopter or the 59th Street Bridge.
SL: It’s a function of too much money and not enough experience and a lot of ego involved. They pull into the airport in their Porsches and Ferraris and hop out and get into their Cirruses. It’s a hot-shot plane. It’s got a glass cockpit fancier than the space shuttle’s. They go fast. I think the wind was blowing a bit from the east or the northeast—that wind would help push you over toward the city if you were turning around to go south, making your radius too great and insufficient to stay within the river. And there’s the building.