New details released yesterday by the US National Transportation Safety Board paint a perplexing conclusion to New York Yankees’ baseball player Cory Lidle’s final flight on 11 October 2006.

Lidle and his instructor, Tyler Stanger, crashed into the 32nd and 33rd floor of an apartment building in Manhattan during a low-altitude sightseeing tour of the Statue of Liberty and East River area of New York City. Both men were killed and the Cirrus SR-20 (N929CD) single engine aircraft owned by Lidle was destroyed in the mid-day crash.

Lidle and his instructor had just launched from Teterboro airport in New Jersey for a cross country trip that was to ultimately end in California when they took the detour, then popular with general aviation aircraft, into the city. An acquaintance working at the airport said Lidle was moving his Cirrus SR-20 from Teterboro because the Yankees had recently lost the pennant race. Lidle told the woman “he hoped to return with the New York Yankees, but wouldn’t find out for a few months.” She told investigators that neither Lidle nor Stanger seemed “stressed” about the issue.

Lidle had 87.8h total time since earning his private pilot's licence and 12.5h of flight time in the SR-20 and SR-22. Stanger had 2,500h, though investigators did not have an estimate of his experience in the Cirrus.

Widely spaced radar reports from air traffic control show two making a relatively controlled flight up the river at about 600ft (180m) altitude, followed by a left 180º turn that failed to clear the buildings on the west side of the narrow visual flight rules (VFR) corridor. Taking the wind into account, investigators calculated that the pilots would have had about 1,400ft of horizontal spacing with which to make the U-turn, a distance that would have required a bank angle of 50º.

Lidle crash diagram

 The NTSB diagram shows the approximate accident flight track of the SR-20 piloted by Yankees baseball player Cory Lidle

Witness reports could fill in some of the blanks as to what happened in the final minutes of the flight:

One witness said the “aircraft flew over the Vernon Boulevard side of the KeySpan Power Plant. The aircraft then made a lefl turn west over Plant until it got over the East River, then made another left turn south. At this point the aircraft’s left wing went down to a 6’0clock position. The aircraft’s lefl wing then came back up and the aircraft made a 36Oº turn, the aircraft then straightened out then flew northwest over the Roosevelt Island Bridge. The aircraft then made a left turn west and flew over Roosevelt Island. After crossing the East River on the other side of Roosevelt Island the aircraft made a left turn south and then flew into the building on 72nd Street in Manhattan and then exploded .

Investigators said another witness saw an aircraft that was flying “erratically, north, along the East River. He described the aircraft’s motion as rocking or wobbling back and forth.” The witness then moved to look from the windows on the east side of the apartment. “The aircraft banked left 90º, with its wings at the ‘twelve and six o’clock position’. He thought the aircraft was practicing stunts. The aircraft continued to turn, and then straightened out in a position in which it was heading straight toward the building and the apartment he was in. The aircraft’s wings continued to “wobble, like the pilot was fighting for control.” The aircraft then pitched down, and to the right. He looked out the windows on the north side of the building, as the aircraft descended below his field of view. He heard an impact and looked at the windows on the north side of the apartment. He saw flames and a portion of the aircraft falling toward the ground.”

In addition to human factors issues related to the pilots’ experience level and complex airspace, investigators are also assessing the mechanical condition of the aircraft before the crash. It’s also unclear whether the men had tried to deploy the aircraft’s ballistic recovery parachute, and if so, whether the chute had fired as designed. Toxicological tests on both pilots for drugs and alcohol proved negative.