Yesterday afternoon, a single engine plane crashed into a residential building at 524 East 72nd Street. Debris from the plane and building fell as floors of the building caught fire; firefighters responded to what became a four-alarm fire and streets closed for emergency response. Although there were initial fears that it might be terorrism related, it turned out to be a tragic accident - and the plane's passengers were Yankee pitcher Cory Lidle and his flight instructor Tyler Stanger. Lidle and Stanger are the only confirmed fatalities from the accident (it had been reported there were at least four fatalities yesterday afternoon). The Cirrus SR20 plane flew into the 30th floor of the Belaire apartments, causing residents and workers to flee from the building.

From the Daily News

Housekeeper Eveline Reategue was tidying her boss' 30th-floor apartment when a sudden explosion nearly knocked her off her feet.

She heard glass shattering and ran to check on her employer, Ilane Benhuri, who had been in her office seated next to the north-facing windows, staring out at the cloudy afternoon sky over the East River.

When Reategue got to the room, the windows were blown in and the wall-to-wall carpet was ablaze. Then she saw Benhuri, frozen in shock and covered in blood.

"Eveline, help me! Eveline, help me!" Benhuri screamed.

"I saw my boss bathed in blood, her face, her neck," said Reategue, who has worked for Benhuri as a housekeeper and nanny for six years. "I grabbed her and said, 'Let's get out of here.'"

[Benhuri is in stable condition.]

From the NY Times:
Inside the building that was struck, five construction workers going over renovation plans for an apartment on the 42nd floor looked out the window and the plane bearing down on them. One of the workers, Luis Gonzalez, 23, said it was so close that he could see the pilot’s face.

“It was coming right at us,” he said. “The whole building shook. Then we ran for the elevator.”

The NY Times also has an article about people evacuating the building, as people thoughts did flash to September 11. And even though there was no terrorist threat, fighter jets were dispatched to the scene.

All told, there are were five civilians, eleven firefighters and one police officer who were treated for injuries. During a press conference, the Mayor praised the NYPD and FDNY for coordinating their response so well, given that they had unified command (and the two agencies' history of squabbles over control).


Now attention is being focused on what caused the accident. Lidle and his relatively recent love of flying had been featured in the NY Times last month, and he mentioned it often. Authorities say that either Lidle, who had 95 hours of flying time, or his instructor could have been piloting the plane. One problem could have been the flight path: Lidle and Stanger flew from the Teterboro, circled the Statue of Liberty, then came up the East River. According to the Daily News when planes enter the East Riber's "exclusionary zone," they must contact LaGuardia or turn around.

"That's the tightest point on the river, with skyscrapers on both sides plus descending jets going into LaGuardia," said Brian Alexander, a veteran pilot and attorney for Kriendler & Kreindler, a law firm specializing in airline lawsuits.

"I wouldn't do it in this plane," he said. "If it's a first time deal for him trying to have a little fun up there, he might have got in over his head."

The Cirrus SR 20 has been compared to a sports car, and the Post says its low price and design make it very attractive to people, since it's easier to maintain and insure, even though there have been a number of accidents. Indeed, the plane's lightness may be why damage to the building was relatively small. A big question for the city may be whether or not the airspace should be more tightly controlled.

The NY Sun spoke to 524 East 72nd's architect, Frank Williams, who rushed to the scene: "He said he never thought the building was in danger of collapsing, despite the ferocity of the fires that gutted at least two apartments." Additionally, brokers do not believe that the prices at the ritzy building, whose residents include Mets third base coach Manny Acta, Ivan Boesky, and author Carol Higgins Clark, will be affected.

Our coverage of the plane crash as information came in.

Top photograph of the fire by Dax Gardner/AP; bottom photograph by c_damage on Flickr