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Yankees pitcher killed in crash of small plane in Manhattan

Story Highlights

• Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle and flight instructor killed in crash
• 16 people, including 11 firefighters, received minor injuries
• Few people at home when plane struck building, mayor says
• Government sources said pilot reported fuel trouble
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle and his flight instructor were killed Wednesday when the 34-year-old ballplayer's plane crashed into a high-rise apartment building in New York, city and baseball team officials said.

No residents at the Belaire Condominiums at 524 E. 72nd Street near the East River were injured.

Two bodies and Lidle's passport were found in the street, responders told CNN.(Watch witness accounts of cascading fireballs and a plane split in half -- 1:58 Video)

"It looks like the plane just flew into someone's living room," witness Sarah Steiner told CNN.

There was a distress call from the pilot involving a problem with fuel, government sources close to the investigation told CNN. (Watch the NTSB comment on investigation -- 3:00 Video)

The Cirrus Design SR-20 four seater originated from Teterboro Regional Airport in New Jersey at about 2:30 p.m. and was on radar as it circled the Statue of Liberty and headed north up the East River, according to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

But radar lost contact, he said, when the plane reached the 59th Street Bridge.

"That's about what you'd expect if the plane started to descend," he said. "We have no idea how it ended up on 72nd Street. The [National Transportation Safety Board] will have to figure that out."

Twelve minutes after the plane left Teterboro, the New York Fire Department was notified of the crash. The plane smacked the 39th and 40th floors of the Belaire condominium building, then crashed to the street below, setting fire to at least one unit in the building as well as burning on the ground.(Thoughts turn to 9/11 in crash confusion)

Henry Neimark, a witness on the ground who is a pilot, said the plane was flying erratically before the crash, and it appeared the pilot lost control.

"I saw an airplane banking very, very steeply," he said. "I said to myself, 'That's very odd for a light plane like that.'"

Neimark said he then saw a "huge ball of fire."(Watch the orange flames ravage the apartment -- 1:50)

Bloomberg said two people were in one of the apartments when the plane struck, and both ran out into the hallway. They, along with others in the building, were all safely evacuated, he said.

The fire department said the fire was out by about 4:30 p.m.

Eleven firefighters and five civilians were slightly injured in the accident on Manhattan's East Side, the mayor said.

More than 160 firefighters from 39 units responded to the four-alarm fire. It took them about 45 minutes to control the blaze that shot about 10 stories to the top of the building.

The building has 183 mainly two- and three-bedroom apartments valued at as much as $1.3 million.

Photos from a freelance photographer showed a wing and debris from the plane on the ground. An engine was found on one of the floors, Bloomberg said.

The NTSB had two investigators at the scene, and several more were coming, spokeswoman Debbie Hersman said at a news conference in Washington. She confirmed that the plane, with tail number N929CD, was registered to Lidle.

FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said the East River is in a corridor governed by Visual Flight Rules, meaning that pilots must stay over the river and climb no higher than 1,100 feet. The pilot was not required to file a flight plan, she said.

Fears of terrorism prompt quick response

North American Aerospace Defense Command Admiral Tim Keating said NORAD had put fighter aircraft into the air over numerous U.S. cities as a precaution, but he didn't name the cities.(Watch why fighter jets were launched -- 1:26 Video)

NORAD did the same thing after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Once it was certain the incident was not a terrorist attack, NORAD called the jets back, Keating said.

The Federal Aviation Administration, also as a precaution, banned aircraft flying below 1,500 feet and within a mile of the building after the crash, said FAA spokeswoman Diane Spitaliere.

No timetable was provided on when the ban might be lifted. Emergency vehicles jammed several blocks of smoke-filled 72nd Street after the accident was reported.

"I just heard this huge, huge crash," said Tamer Faltos, who was a few buildings away when the plane crashed. "There were people screaming, a huge flame. In seconds the firefighters and the police were here, thank God."

Yanks haunted by plane crash history

Lidle is the second Yankee to die in the crash of a plane he owned. Catcher Thurman Munson, the 1976 American League MVP and a 9-year veteran of the Yankees, was killed on August 2, 1979, in a crash as he practiced takeoffs and landings in his new Cessna Citation jet at the Akron-Canton [Ohio] Airport.

In a prepared statement, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said, "This is a terrible and shocking tragedy that has stunned the entire Yankees organization. I offer my deep condolences and prayers to his wife, Melanie, and son, Christopher, on their enormous loss." (Who was Lidle?)

Lidle is from Hollywood, California, and played for a decade in the minor leagues, said Sports Illustrated senior writer Tom Verducci.

The pitcher was 4-3 for the Yankees, who acquired the right-handed pitcher in a trade with the Philadelphia Phillies on July 30.

He pitched 1 1/3 innings and gave up three runs in the Yankees' season-ending loss to Detroit in the American League Division Series on Saturday.

Lidle, a nine-year veteran, was in the last year of his contract.

In his short time with the Yankees, Lidle has gained a reputation as a guy who "always had a smile on his face," said Verducci. Around the clubhouse, he "treated everyone as an equal."

Lidle was passionate about learning how to fly, the writer said. The ballplayer spent his off days logging time in the air. (Watch Lidle do what he loved -- 3:10)

"[It was] only recently that [Lidle] made the money he needed to go out and buy a plane," said Verducci.

An aircraft slammed into the Belaire Condominiums near the East River on Wednesday afternoon.



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