WASHINGTON, D.C. — It was pilot misjudgment, incomplete planning, and airmanship that caused the accident last October in which Yankee pitcher Cory Lidle and his flight instructor, Tyler Stanger, died when their Cirrus SR20 hit an apartment building in Manhattan.
In a hearing to determine the cause of the accident, the National Transportation Safety Board found no problems with the aircraft, powerplant or instruments. Nor could they determine which of the two persons was flying the airplane at the time.
The two men had taken off from a field in New Jersey, flew past the Statue of Liberty and began following a path up the East River. That route ended at the boundary of Class B airspace for LaGuardia Airport. Pilots could contact Air Traffic Control for entrance into the space or make a 180° turn to stay VFR. The two apparently chose to make the turn.
Radar tracks showed the turn was started approximately in the middle of the corridor instead of at one side. There was a 13 knot crosswind. During the first three-quarters of the turn the aircraft was in a standard left bank of 30° to 45°. In the last quarter of the turn the bank increased to more than 50°. The aircraft lost 300 feet of altitude in five to six seconds and crashed into the 32nd floor of the apartment building. The engine and propeller were found inside an apartment; other debris was located on the street below, with some up to 150 feet away.
Stall speed for the Cirrus straight and level is 67 knots. In a 60° bank stall speed increases to 95 knots. Investigators were not able to determine the speeds of the plane, stating there were indications of a stall but no sure evidence.
The pilots could have maintained the more shallow bank and climbed above the building but might have entered the Class B airspace without a clearance and possibly been charged with a violation.
The NTSB was interested in the history of flights in the corridor, but the staff had not examined the NASA reporting data. Board member Steven Chealander said officials at the AOPA Air Safety Foundation told him that in the 35 years that the corridor has been in place there were no previous accidents and the area had been navigated successfully by thousands of pilots.
Vice Chair Robert Sumwalt said he was not attempting to set blame but was of the opinion that the accident started “”after passing the Statue of Liberty”" when the pilots apparently had not planned the steps to exit themselves from what the staff called “”an aerial cul-de-sac.”"
The board determined there were no problems with the aircraft and that both pilots had in the past conformed to safety procedures and maintained good flight training and habits. At the time of the accident, Lidle had 87 and a fraction hours flight time, the last 12 and a half in the Cirrus. His previous experience was in a Cessna 172.
Exact flight hours of Stanger were not available because he was in the process of converting his log book into a computer record. However, a form filled out only a few weeks earlier indicated 2,500 hours in various aircraft. His home base was Bracket Field in La Verne, California. Before the flight, Stanger had called a friend and asked about flying the corridor over the Hudson River — on the west side of Manhattan — but had not discussed the East River corridor.
The board unanimously agreed that the cause of the accident was inadequate planning and judgment. Chairman Mark Rosenker commented that the board and staff must find ways to better train pilots in making judgment decisions.
The board will recommend to the FAA that the present NOTAM about flying the East River be made permanent. It prohibits VFR flight by fixed-wing, non-amphibious aircraft in the New York East River Class B exclusion airspace unless authorized by air traffic control.
Charles Spence is GAN’s Washington, D.C., correspondent.