Today in Sports History: October 11th

10/11/2006 - Lidle crashes into New York City building

Ten and a half years to the day Jessica Dubroff, a 7 year-old girl, died while attempting to become the youngest cross-country pilot in history, baseball player Cory Lidle died in his own aerial accident. Lidle's death was notable not only because he was a New York Yankees pitcher, but because he happened to die in the most conspicuous way possible: crashing a plane into a New York City building, post-9/11.

Just days after the Detroit Tigers eliminated the Yankees from the playofs, Lidle was onboard a Cirrus SR-20 with his flight instructor, Tyler Strange, sitting beside him. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, the plane encountered heavy winds as they attempted to make a U-turn around the Manhattan skyline. The NTSB couldn't decipher whether it was Lidle or Strange piloting the plane, though it was presumed that Lidle, with only 100 hours of total experience, was at the helm.

The men lost control of the aircraft and it crashed between the 30th and 31st floors of a Belaire apartment building. An initial threat of a terrorist attack prompted a quick response from law enforcement, though when Lidle's passport was found on the ground, those fears were quickly laid to rest. Lidle and Strange perished in the accident with several residents suffering mild injuries.

Cory Lidle was a somewhat nomad over his nine-year career, having played with seven separate teams. His death affected many active ballplayers, particularly the Yankees who had watched him pitch less than a week earlier.

"He was just a great guy, just a pleasant guy to be around, pleasant guy to talk to," first baseman Andy Phillips said. "It’s unbelievable. I can’t even fathom this happening."

"It's like a surreal moment,'' said Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson, who coached Lidle when they were both in Oakland. "I think it just goes to show how insignificant some of the things that we think are significant really are when this comes down to the fact that we're about to play a baseball game and how important is that, really?"

"We do this stuff, and a lot of people see us up here as superheroes or cartoon characters," said ex-teammate Barry Zito. "And the reality is, no, we’re just all people. We’re on a baseball field like the rest of the kids in the world. It’s a little bigger with more fans and media attention. We’re just regular humans."

Piloting planes already had a negative connotation with baseball players, especially with the New York Yankees. In 1979, Yankee star Thurman Munson died when his private plane smashed into a tree. Pilot error was also the cause of death for players Roberto Clemente, Jim Hardin, and Ken Hubbs. Following Munson's death, most ballclubs enacted clauses stating that if a player were to take part in a wreckless activity, such as flying an airplane, that player would lose his contract.

In the weeks and months leading up to the accident, Lidle gave several interviews distancing himself from the danger of flying. Sitting across from Thurman Munson's locker made sure he would be asked about it.

"About a year ago, I started calling around," Lidle said in 2006. "[I] talked to a couple instructors, and I said, 'Hey, here’s my deal. I learn fast, and this is going to be my No. 1 priority. If you think four and a half months is enough time, I’m going to do it. If not, I’ll just wait until I’m done playing baseball, because I don’t want to get halfway through it and then get into the season. I may be overwhelmed and I won’t go back to it.'"

"He was probably my best student," Tyle Stanger said. "He learned very, very quickly, and a lot of it is desire. He had huge desire. Really, anyone can learn how to fly. If you can drive a bus, you can fly an airplane."

"The whole plane has a parachute on it," Lidle once explained. "Ninety-nine percent of pilots that go up never have engine failure, and the 1 percent that do usually land it. But if you’re up in the air and something goes wrong, you pull that parachute, and the whole plane goes down slowly."

Lidle's parachute was never deployed. He was 34. Cory survived by his wife Melanie and his son Christopher.

Further reading:

Plane Crash Photo Gallery

Lidle, Munson tragedies share a baseball bond

Building Hit by Cory Lidle’s Plane Is Almost Whole

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