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NTSB: Memory chip from aircraft control panel recovered

The last radar picture of Yankee pitcher Cory Lidle's plane showed the single-engine craft at 500 feet in a left turn a quarter-mile north of the building it eventually struck, a National Transportation Safety Board spokeswoman said Thursday.

The NTSB's Debbie Hersman said the Cirrus Design SR20 aircraft was traveling 112 mph at 700 feet when it reached 70th Street and began the turn. The plane slammed into the Belaire condominium building on 72nd Street moments later.

Lidle, 34, and flight instructor Tyler Stanger, 26, were killed Wednesday afternoon in the fiery crash that stirred chilling memories of Sept. 11, 2001, in many Upper East Siders.

Hersman said the plane left New Jersey's Teterboro Regional Airport flying north, made a right turn to fly south along the New Jersey shore of the Hudson River and then made a 180-degree turn around the Statue of Liberty to fly north up the East River.

Hersman said investigators had not yet determined which man was piloting the plane, which was registered to Lidle. She said investigators found a memory chip that could provide information about the flight at the time of the crash, but Cirrus Design spokesman Bill King said that will depend on the condition of the chip. "This is not black box technology," he said. "It's going to give general information [such as] how hard the engine was working. It won't show speed. [But] this airplane took a significant hit. Depending on how badly damaged it is, they may or may not have any information on it."

Hersman said investigators also found a global positioning system device.
Stanger didn't take Cirrus' training course. Lidle had 88 hours of flight time, 47 of those as a "pilot in command," Hersman said, citing his logbook, which was recovered at the scene. Stanger had never gone through Cirrus Design's own pilot certification program, according to the Duluth, Minnesota, company's Web site and a source close to the investigation. The program consists of a rigorous weeklong training course involving classroom work and hands-on air time, the Web site says. King said the company highly recommends the course. Pilots must take it yearly to be re-certified. "We have a rigid standard for our customer base who will go to market and look for these certified instructors," King said.

In Lidle and Stanger's last known contact with air traffic control, they told Teterboro not to transfer them to New York air traffic control because they were "just going to fly up and down the river" under visual flight rules, Hersman said.

The Hudson and East River corridors are governed by VFR [visual flight rules], meaning a pilot cannot fly in the clouds and must navigate by visible landmarks. It also means that general aviation aircraft cannot fly above 1,100 feet and are not required to be in contact with air traffic control. The area around the Belaire remained closed Thursday as investigators searched for parts of the plane, marking their location and transporting them to a single location, Hersman told reporters. She said investigators hoped to complete that phase of the investigation in "about 24 hours" and release the scene.

"The debris field is scattered," she said. "Parts of the aircraft are on the 40th floor, parts are on the ground and parts are on other buildings." Witnesses saw a huge fireball when the place hit and fears of September 11, 2001, were briefly ignited. Eleven apartments in the Belaire building remain closed off, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said, and people trying to gain access to the street in front of the building must show identification so police can cut down on the number of onlookers.

Some residents of the building were being allowed back into their homes after engineers determined the structure is sound, he said. Earlier Thursday, Kelly identified Stanger, the owner of Stang-AIR in La Verne, California. Stanger first met Lidle last year in Pomona, California, according to The New York Times.

Stanger told the newspaper in a September 8 article that Lidle learned to fly very quickly and had a "huge desire" to learn. In a 2004 article in the San Gabriel Valley (California) Tribune, Stanger said that flying is very safe. "The most dangerous part about flying is the drive to the airport," he said. "It's a wing. It's very safe. It's the wing that flies, it's not the engine."

That fact that Lidle's logbook showed he had 88 hours of flight time -- 47 of which were as "pilot in command" -- "does not necessarily mean he was solo; that means he was a pilot in command of the aircraft for 47 hours," Hersman said. Hersman said the NTSB's investigation would also consider whether there are any safety or security issues with flying in New York City's airspace.
A player mourned

Lidle had just finished the 2006 baseball season with a 12-10 record. Over the course of his nine-year career, he amassed an 82-72 record. He joined the Yankees just two months ago from the Philadelphia Phillies. He earned his pilot's license in February and bought his plane several months later. Lidle, born in Hollywood, California, married Melanie Varela in 1997. The couple's son, Christopher Taylor Lidle, is 6. Yankees manager Joe Torre called Wednesday's accident "a terrible shock.""Cory's time with the Yankees was short, but he was a good teammate and a great competitor," he said. "My heart goes out to his family."

Lidle's twin brother Kevin told CNN's "Larry King Live" that learning of his brother's death was "unbelievable," adding that he had yet to have an emotional release. "I guess I'm in some kind of state of shock," he said. "The first thing that really hit me hard was ... I saw a picture of him [on television] and underneath it said 1972-2006. I just thought, 'That does not look right.' " The Lidle brothers played high school baseball together, along with New York Yankee Jason Giambi and his brother, Jeremy Giambi of the Chicago White Sox.

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