Baseball player’s private jet spreads panic in New York

Today’s air crash in New York spread panic among the city residents when a small plane piloted by baseball player Cory Lidle slammed into a 50-storied building. Many New Yorkers believed that it was another terrorist attack masterminded by al-Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden. Two people were killed in the crash.

See the photo report of the incident here

The single-engine aircraft plowed into the 30th and 31st floors of The Belaire condominium high-rise on Manhattan's Upper East Side on Wednesday afternoon.

It touched off a raging fire that cast a pillar of black smoke over the city and sent flames shooting from four windows on two adjoining floors. Firefighters put the blaze out in less than an hour.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said both people aboard were killed. He said the plane's occupants were sightseeing and were taking a route that took them over the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Empire State Building.

A law enforcement official in Washington said 34-year-old Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle, an avid pilot who got his license last year, was aboard. It was not immediately clear who was the second person aboard, the AP said.

At least 21 people were taken to the hospital, most of them firefighters. Their conditions were not disclosed.

The crash rattled New Yorkers' nerves five years after the Sept. 11 attacks, but the FBI and the Homeland Security quickly said there was no evidence it was anything but an accident. Nevertheless, within 10 minutes of the crash, fighter jets were sent aloft over several cities, including New York, Pentagon officials said.

The incident raised questions about how a plane could get so close to a New York City building after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Baseball player’s private jet spreads panic in New York
Baseball player’s private jet spreads panic in New York
"We're under a high alert and you would assume that if something like this happened, people would have known about it before it occurred, not after," said former National Transportation Safety Board director Jim Hall in a telephone interview.

Despite initial fears of a terrorist attack, all three New York City-area airports continued to operate normally, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Jim Peters said.

The craft took off from New Jersey's Teterboro Airport about 2:30 p.m. (1830 GMT) and was in the air for barely 15 minutes, authorities said. The plane had issued a distress call before the crash, according to a federal official, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

The FAA said it was too early to determine what might have caused the crash, and it was not immediately clear who was at the controls. The National Transportation Safety Board sent investigators.

The plane was registered to Lidle, FAA records showed, and Lidle's passport was found on the street, the federal official said. But city officials did not give any official confirmation of Lidle's death.

The plane was unusual in that it was equipped with a parachute in case of engine failure, but there was no sign the chute was used.

Large crowds gathered in the street in the largely wealthy New York neighborhood, with many people in tears and some trying to reach loved ones by cell phone.

"It wasn't until I was halfway home that I started shaking. The whole memory of an airplane flying into a building and across the street from your home. It's a little too close to home," Sara Green, 40, who lives across the street from The Belaire. "It crossed my mind that it was something bigger or the start of something bigger."

The plane, flying north over the East River along the usual flight corridor, came through a hazy, cloudy sky and hit the red-brick tower overlooking the river with a loud bang.

Young May Cha, a 23-year-old Cornell University medical student, said she was walking back from the grocery store down East 72nd Street when she saw something come across the sky and crash into the building. Cha said there appeared to be smoke coming from behind the aircraft, and "it looked like it was flying erratically for the short time that I saw it."