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Yankee’s Plane Crashed Because of Defect, Lawyer Says

New York Yankee pitcher Cory Lidle’s plane slammed into a building on Manhattan’s Upper East Side in 2006 because the aircraft’s flight-control system was defective, a lawyer for his estate told a jury.

Lidle and his flight instructor, Tyler Stanger, were killed when their plane crashed into an apartment building on East 72nd Street. Lidle was 34 and Stanger was 26. Their widows filed a wrongful-death suit against Duluth, Minnesota-based Cirrus Design Corp., the maker of Lidle’s single-engine SR20 plane, in February 2007.

The women say the flight-control system failed because of a design defect, causing Lidle and Stanger to lose control of the aircraft. Cirrus says the pilots started a turn too close to the eastern shore of Manhattan at too low an angle, leaving them too little room to finish the maneuver.

“There is no pilot error,” Todd E. Macaluso, a lawyer for the estates of Lidle and Stanger, told the jury in his opening statement in Manhattan federal court. “If you can’t control the airplane, you can’t be at fault. This airplane was out of control.”

The accident was a “terrible tragedy” and Cirrus is “genuinely sorry” for the loss of the two men, Patrick E. Bradley, an attorney for the company, said in his opening statement, before U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones.

‘Unfair to Blame’

“We also have to acknowledge that it is wrong and it is unfair to blame someone for something they did not do,” Bradley said. “Cirrus did not cause these deaths, the airplane did not cause these deaths.”

Lidle started his Major League Baseball career with the New York Mets in 1997 and played for five other teams before joining the Yankees from the Philadelphia Phillies in a trade in July 2006. He had a career record of 82 wins and 72 losses.

The crash came four days after the Yankees were eliminated from the American League playoffs. Lidle and Stanger were planning to fly from Teterboro Airport in New Jersey to California after flying down the Hudson River, around the Statue of Liberty and up the East River.

About a mile north of the Queensboro Bridge, the plane began a 180-degree turn and crashed into the 50-story Belaire, a red-brick luxury condominium tower built in 1988, killing Lidle and Stanger and injuring three people in the building.

Plane With Parachute

The four-seat Cirrus, the first production aircraft fitted with a parachute as standard equipment, smashed into the building 332 feet (101 meters) above the street and plunged in flames.

The Federal Aviation Administration restricted flights over New York’s East River two days after the crash, requiring pilots of small planes to get air-traffic controllers’ permission to enter the corridor.

A National Transportation Safety Board report issued in May 2007 found that poor piloting caused the crash. The drop could have been caused by a loss of lift, known as an aerodynamic stall, from the steepness of the turn, or because the pilot lowered the plane’s nose to pick up speed in an attempt to avoid stalling, board investigators said.

The suit was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court before being removed to federal court for the Central District of California and later transferred to Manhattan.

The case is Lidle v. Cirrus Design Corp., 1:08-cv-01253, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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