Investigators have spent the hours after a plane, carrying Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle and his flight instructor Tyler Stanger, crashed into an Upper East Side building gathering evidence from the street. Federal transportation investigators believe that the single engine Cirrus SR 20 was trying to make a U-turn when it turned left over the East River, based on something either Lidle or Stanger told an official at Teterboro Airport. According to radar, the plane had flown over the East River at an altitude of 700 feet and was at 500 feet a quarter mile north of 524 East 72nd Street.

2006_10_tylerstanger.jpgThere's some question about how familiar Stanger was with NYC aviation rules. Stanger was an experienced and enthusiastic pilot, but may have only flown over NYC once before. It's still unclear who was steering the plane, and it's possible investigators never know. But it turns out that there is a clause in Lidle's Major League Baseball insurance policy which says the accidental death insurance of $1.05 million is excluded "any incident related to travel in an aircraft ... while acting in any capacity other than as a passenger." Lidle's friends say he was probably trying to get a look at the stadium before flying back to California to join his wife and son.

And after reading the NY Times' description of flight rules, things do seem to be confusing:

An Air Defense Identification Zone similar to that in place in Washington was briefly enforced over the New York area after 9/11, but was rescinded. According to federal aviation officials, such restrictions are established in consultation with the Transportation Security Administration and other agencies, as part of a “risk-based approach.”

As a result, small planes like Mr. Lidle’s and helicopters of all sorts have remained free to fly close to New York City’s monuments, bridges and buildings. They also frequently receive permission to fly directly over the city, at altitudes above 2,000 feet, according to air traffic controllers. If they stay above 7,000 feet, they can fly across Manhattan and the other boroughs without permission.

And corridors like the ones over the New York rivers, where no permission is needed, are common around the country, aviation officials said. The reason, in New York and elsewhere, is in part to accommodate small planes that would otherwise have to fly hundreds of miles to avoid major cities and their large airports.

Governor Pataki wanted the FAA to "extend indefinitely" the East River airspace restriction the agency placed after the crash (the FAA didn't). Other politicians have suggested that NYC's airspace be more restricted, but the Mayor opposes that, noting the bigger picture of air traffic issues. The Mayor, who does have his pilot's license, said, "If you want to look at the numbers, we have very few accidents for an awful lot of traffic. And any time you have an automobile accident, you're not going to go and close the streets or prohibit people from driving." Of course, Senator Charles Schumer found occasion to freak out, saying, "A smart terrorist could fly right up the Hudson, or right up the East River, no questions asked."

Chicagoist's pilot-in-residence, Todd McClamroch, wrote about general aviation in Chicago in the wake of the crash. And he flew up the Hudson River earlier this year, and took this picture:


And, in a strange, strange twist of fate, the plane landed in the bedroom of Kathleen Caronna. She is the woman who was in a month long coma after the Thanksgiving Day parade Cat in the Hat balloon hit a streetlamp and fell on top of her, fracturing her skull. Caronna was on her way home.

Top photograph of detectives looking for evidence by Bebeto Matthews/AP; inset photograph of Stanger by David Prado/AP; and bottom photograph by Todd McClamroch