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Yankees Pitcher Dies in Plane Crash; Learning the Lessons of 9/11; Remembering Cory Lidle

Aired October 11, 2006 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening again, everyone.
The images were strikingly familiar. And, for a moment today, so was the chill: a plane into a skyscraper, the building in flames, fighter jets on patrol, nerves on edge.

Tonight, we know that terrorism did not send a small single- engine plane off course, a very narrow and busy path along the East River. We don't yet know, however, why it veered west into a 50-story apartment building on Manhattan's Upper East Side -- so, all the angles tonight on the crash that took two lives, including the plane's owner, Major League Baseball's Cory Lidle, a pitcher for the New York Yankees.

We will also look at the crowded skies around Manhattan, amazing to some that, in this post-9/11 New York, just about any pilot, without any special clearance at all, can routinely get so close to landmarks and high-rises.

Also, Cory Lidle's experience at the controls -- he was pretty green. His plane can be fairly demanding -- the airspace, some of the most challenging their is. What role, if any, might that have played? And does it fit the same kind of pattern that took the lives of John F. Kennedy Jr. or the late Yankee catcher Thurman Munson?

Plenty of questions to get answers to tonight.

Federal investigators are on the scene. And, like us, they will start at the crash site.


COOPER (voice-over): Moments after the crash, there was fire, and there was fear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody started running. And, when I looked up, I seen a small plane crash into the building. And it looked like he was, like, having a malfunction. And it's like he was trying to swerve away from the building and like land in the water, but he was already too close already. And, then, he turned down, and just hit the building. And everybody started running up the block.

COOPER: The small plane had taken off from a New Jersey airport about 2:30 p.m. -- on board, a flight instructor and a pilot, Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle. Twelve minutes later, the plane crashed into the 39th and 40th floors of the Belaire condominiums, a high-rise apartment building on Manhattan's Upper East Side. Two people were in one of the apartments the plane struck, but managed to escape. This man was inside the building when the plane hit.

(on camera): What kind of a -- it was a plane?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was an airplane, like two engines, something like that, a small plane. It was coming towards us, actually, you know? I -- I just stood there. I couldn't move.

COOPER (voice-over): It took about 45 minutes to control the flames shooting out of the building. Everyone, however, was evacuated safely.

Police units and more than 160 firefighters responded to the scene. Five years after the 9/11 attacks, the images of Manhattan's skyline ablaze seemed frighteningly familiar.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, I was just running on the street and screaming to everybody, "Call police, call police," because that is -- you know, what else you can do? I thought, it's terrorism.

COOPER: But officials quickly said the crash was not terror- related.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (R), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: It was ascertained pretty quickly that this was unlikely to be anything more than what it appears to be, a small plane going into a mixed-use building at an apartment floor level.

COOPER: Still, the FAA put flight restrictions around the building, and the military scrambled fighter jets over several unnamed U.S. cities.

At least 21 people were taken to the hospital for injuries, most of them firefighters. Two people died, the flight instructor and Cory Lidle. Their bodies and Lidle's passport were found in the street, amid the wreckage.

BLOOMBERG: Two human beings' lives were snuffed out. But we also should say a prayer to say thank you that it wasn't anything more serious than this.


COOPER: Well, a pair for -- a prayer for Cory Lidle's family. He has a wife and a small child.

Whatever happened inside that cockpit -- and, at this point, we still do not know, it happened just a short time after takeoff, less than 15 minutes. That's how long after takeoff it took for Cory Lidle's plane to slam into that high-rise.

Tom Foreman takes a look back now at the short, deadly route. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As he took off from the oldest airport serving New York, Cory Lidle's view would have been spectacular, a panorama of skyscrapers rising ahead, surrounded east, west, and south by water.

Manhattan is only six miles east of Teterboro Airport. But, as Lidle climbed, he had to be alert, with three major airports and several small airfields nearby.

Ben Berman is a former investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board.

BEN BERMAN, FORMER NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD INVESTIGATOR: Well, normally, when you fly around the area, if you're not landing at an airport nearby there, you're above all the buildings. You can't go too much above them, because, if you go too high, then you are in the airspace that is reserved for the airliners.

FOREMAN: That would put Lidle's plane somewhere around 1,100 or 1,200 feet in the air as it approached the city, an estimated six minutes into the flight.

But regulations forbid passing directly over the buildings without special clearance. So, Lidle's plane was working its way south, following the Hudson River, according to the mayor.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (R), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: They have it on radar circling the Statue of Liberty, and then heading up the East River.

FOREMAN: It is unclear whether Lidle had any idea that he was in trouble at this point, but he did continue up the east side of the island on the sightseeing trip, passing over the Brooklyn Bridge. He passed the United Nations, and, a little further on, the 59th Street Bridge, actually headed toward Yankee Stadium, when witnesses say his plane suddenly turned and catastrophically dropped into the city.

Why did it happen? There are only theories now.

BERMAN: If you lose control of the airplane, the whole story can end very, very quickly. An airplane can descend at thousands of feet per minute in a loss of control, and you could you could -- you could hit the ground in less than a minute.

FOREMAN (voice-over): The flight took 12 minutes to reach its fatal end. And now the investigation begins.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: Well, it's certainly well under way.

Almost immediately this afternoon, an investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board was on the scene. Another 10 members of what the NTSB calls a go-team are on their way up from Washington. They will not quite have all the tools they do when a large airliner goes down. There are no black boxes, for example, from this cockpit.

They will, however, have radar, tapes, wreckage, and, of course, being Manhattan, a lot of eyewitnesses.

Henry Neimark is one of them. In addition, he's a private pilot.

Henry, thanks for being with us.

What did you see?

HANK NEIMARK, EYEWITNESS: Well, I was entering the BQE from the Grand Central Parkway, just past the Triborough Bridge. And, suddenly, I saw an airplane, a small airplane. I'm used to seeing them. I like to look at them. I like see them from -- you know, at my -- basically, my altitude. I look for them all the time when I'm flying.

COOPER: Right.

NEIMARK: And I saw it.

COOPER: Was there something strange about this or just...

NEIMARK: Yes. It was -- it was -- it was flying low. It was in amongst the buildings.

It was doing some really severe maneuvers. It didn't appear to be out of control.

COOPER: Right.

NEIMARK: But these are the kind of maneuvers, the banking maneuvers, steep banking maneuvers, that pilots are routinely instructed, and it's drilled into them, not to do close to the ground.

COOPER: So, at this point, you're supposed to fly over the East River...


COOPER: ... actually, over the water.

NEIMARK: Right, over the water.

COOPER: Right, and -- and not above a certain altitude.

NEIMARK: Not above a certain altitude. And you're supposed to make position reports all the way.

COOPER: But, at this point that you saw the plane, it was no longer over the water.

NEIMARK: No, no. It was over Manhattan at that point. COOPER: And that's -- that is -- I mean, that is not allowed.

NEIMARK: That's -- no, of course, it is not allowed. And...

COOPER: How long was it -- did you see the impact?

NEIMARK: Yes, I did. I did.

I lost sight of the airplane for just a moment, as it went to the far side of the building. And, then, as it impacted, I saw it. And I saw it. And my wife was with me. And I said, that plane just hit the building.

And it was a huge ball of fire, billows of smoke. Now, when I saw the plane, it was -- you know, I -- I thought it was odd. You know, I said, well, here's a plane, you know, doing these acrobatic maneuvers, you know, just...

COOPER: Well, another -- another eyewitness I talked to said it was sort of a zigzagging pattern. That's...


COOPER: ... described it.

NEIMARK: Yes. I guess you could see it. Depending on your point of view, it might look like it's zigzagging, because, certainly, when a plane goes into a bank, you have seen jets. You know, when they -- when they turn, they sort of fall away from...


COOPER: So, as a pilot, did it seem like this pilot, whoever was flying, was trying to gain control of it, or it was out of control?

NEIMARK: You know, it didn't look like it was out of control to me.

It was just odd to see what it was doing. These turns that the pilot was making seemed very controlled. So, I imagine, at this point, the flight instructor -- I understand the flight instructor was with him -- the flight instructor, I'm sure, had the controls at that point...

COOPER: Mmm-hmm.

NEIMARK: ... you know, took the plane, and flew, a very experienced pilot, you know, a -- a -- a certified flight instructor would be very, very experienced. And...

COOPER: But, once you're amidst those buildings...


COOPER: ... I guess it is hard to pull out of it.

NEIMARK: It's hard.

I mean, you want to make the turn. I -- I -- I felt, at that point, that here was a plane that desperately wanted to get back to La Guardia. There was some problem, had to get back to La Guardia. You're going to -- what are you going to do? Let's say you're losing altitude; you're losing power. You turn this way. You turn. You see a building. You turn that way.

You don't know what's over there, and then maybe you impact a building. I don't know. It's very hard. You can't fly in those Manhattan canyons.

COOPER: You fly. You must have thought about crashing and -- and -- and things like that.

NEIMARK: From time to time.


COOPER: But to actually see it -- I mean, to actually see it has got to be...

NEIMARK: Well...

COOPER: ... just horrible.

NEIMARK: ... it's -- it's unsettling, to say the least, in the best of circumstances, if we can say that.

But, with the images of 9/11 still so fresh in our memory, it -- it took on a sickening kind of affect. It was just -- you know, we -- we -- we, you know, a -- a plane in a building, lives lost, tragedy. You know, what is it about, you know?

COOPER: Well, it is...

NEIMARK: I mean, it's clear to me it was not a large airliner. It was clear to me that it was not, you know, going to do a great deal of damage, structurally, to the building.

COOPER: Still, loss of life is terrible.

NEIMARK: Yes, terrible.

COOPER: Henry, appreciate you telling us what you saw. Thank you.

NEIMARK: My pleasure. Thank you very much.

COOPER: Cory Lidle only took up flying last year. He had a passion for the sky. That's what those who knew him said. And that is very clear in the video that you're about to see.

It was taken back in April. And it shows Lidle at the controls of a plane not involved in today's deadly crash. The images and the words are haunting. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CORY LIDLE, MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL PLAYER: Make sure that the fuel is full in each tank. Ready to jump in.


As you can see, we're second in line.


C. LIDLE: On the takeoff, we're going to get up to 55, 60 knots, and just start pulling back, nice and slow.

We're not going to get too high today. We're going to try and stay under 1,500. So, when we go over towards the city, we won't be in Philadelphia's airspace.

Right now, we're heading right towards Pine Valley. There's Pine Valley, the world's best golf course right there. That's sweet. I played that course about two weeks ago.

It's a good feeling. No matter what's going on, on the ground in your life, you can go up in the air, and -- and everything's gone. You know, you -- you don't think about baseball. You don't -- you don't think about anything. It's just something that takes you away from -- from everyday life.

I love being in a plane, and looking down, and seeing traffic on the freeway.

I found out that I love it. You know, one thing I'm not going to do is beg anyone to go with me. If they don't want to go, if they're scared, or they don't trust me, that's fine. It's not going to hurt my feelings.

But I -- I love it. I'm going to continue to do it.

I wish we could go over by the field.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That would be cool.

C. LIDLE: I don't -- I don't want to get my license taken away, though.


C. LIDLE: This is the first time that I have actually flew over the city. It can put things into perspective, but it's really hard to -- unless it's like a stadium, it's really pick out landmarks from the -- from the air.

It's almost like you're 16, getting your license. You can go to the mall whenever you want. This is pretty much that same feeling, maybe times a hundred, because you can go just about anywhere you want. And just, you know, to be up in the air, looking down on everything on the ground, is pretty cool, a pretty cool feeling.

There's the airport right there.

Cross Keys, Cessna, six-Charlie-alpha on final for runway nine, Cross Keys.

And we're down.

Yes, stick the landing, walk away, and it's -- it's a good day.


COOPER: Well, that good day was Cory Lidle flying a plane back in April.

Today, his family and friends and teammates are mourning his death.

CNN's Jason Carroll now on a young life cut far too short.


JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Cory Lidle spent most of nine seasons in the minor leagues, always hoping to make it in the majors. He did. He pitched for seven teams, most recently as a starter for the New York Yankees.

But his twin brother says, flying was his newest passion. Lidle got his pilot's license last February.

KEVIN LIDLE, BROTHER OF CORY LIDLE: He loved to fly. There's -- he didn't hide that. He -- he loved to learn about how the airplanes work.

CARROLL: It was a shock to Lidle's family and teammates that it was his single-engine aircraft, a Cirrus SR-20, that crashed into this Manhattan apartment building.

BRIAN CASHMAN, GENERAL MANAGER, NEW YORK YANKEES: And we're incredibly saddened by this news today. It's -- it's a shock. And I ask everybody to keep their prayers for his family.

CARROLL: Lidle had logged 400 hours of flight time, and recently told "The New York Times" how safe he felt in the air, saying: "The whole plane has a parachute on it. Ninety-nine percent of pilots that go up never have engine failure, and the 1 percent that do usually land it."

Lidle's fans were stunned by the crash.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It has been a terrible year. And the way to end it, this -- this is even worse. I mean, this puts baseball into perspective. Baseball is a game, and -- and this is real life.

CARROLL: This is not the Yankees' first aviation tragedy. In 1979, Yankee catcher Thurman Munson was killed as he practiced taking off and landing a plane.

Yankee's first baseman Jason Giambi, who played with Lidle in high school as well, said he was devastated by his teammate's death.

Lidle, just 34 years old, leaves behind his wife, Melanie, and his 6-year-old son, Christopher.

Jason Carroll, CNN, New York.


COOPER: Well, a quick item just into CNN: We are expecting a news conference shortly from the NTSB. We will, of course, bring you any developments from that as they happen.

And Cory's twin brother is speaking out tonight. As you are going to hear in a moment, for Kevin Lidle, the reality of Cory's death has not even begun to sink in.

Also, the people who sprang into action when tragedy struck today -- America's first-responders and how well the new post-9/11 machinery worked today.

Then: What draws athletes and actors into the cockpit, and is it a recipe for trouble?

That and more -- tonight on 360.


COOPER: Well, when Cory Lidle's plane went into the building this afternoon, a wife lost a husband and a young child lost his father.

The New York Yankees lost a -- a teammate, of course. Kevin Lidle lost a brother.

He spoke with CNN affiliate WTSP in Tampa, Florida, earlier tonight.


K. LIDLE: To this moment, it hasn't sunk in. I can tell you that.

I don't really know what to think, what to feel. I'm -- I'm trying to just be in touch with my family. And they're definitely trying to get in touch with me. And, you know, I have -- I am sick to my stomach about what's going to happen in a couple of hours, because his wife and son are on a plane from New York to Los Angeles. And they're scheduled to land at 5:30. And, as far as I know, they don't have the slightest idea what happened. So, that's crushing.


COOPER: Well, that means they would have landed about two hours ago.

Mike Radano is a sportswriter. He is also friend of Cory Lidle. The two spoke just days ago.

Mike joins me now from Philadelphia.

Mike, I'm sorry to meet you under these circumstances.

Your thoughts when you heard about the accident?

MIKE RADANO, FRIEND OF CORY LIDLE: I think the thoughts are all the same.

We are just a little numb right now. It's very hard to really come to grips with what has gone on. You hear these things. You know, it's the off-season, and the -- and the players go away, and you -- you don't talk to them as much. I happened to talk to Cory Lidle a lot over the past two off-seasons. So, it's -- it's a shock. That's basically the best way to put it.

COOPER: You played -- you played golf with him. You knew him personally. What -- what kind of a guy was he?

RADANO: He was -- he was a very intense person. He was very passionate.

Played a lot of golf with him. I have been watching the highlights over the past couple of hours. And they keep showing the same clips. And I was like going, OK, I played that golf course with him, and I played that golf course with him.

He took everything -- you know, he -- he lived life to its fullest. And he -- and he really went after everything. And that's how he played golf. And that's how he did everything.

COOPER: Does it seem real to you? I mean, his brother there was talking. He was talking on "LARRY KING" a little bit earlier.

You know, his brother was saying, it doesn't -- it doesn't seem like it has sunk in.

RADANO: No. No, I -- I agree totally with Kevin on that. It's -- it's just a very strange feeling, because, you know, this was someone I -- I just talked to him a week ago on the phone. It's -- it's -- it's so far away. It's like it didn't really happen.

And, you know, what keeps going through my mind is Melanie and Christopher. You know, you have got to feel bad for those two. And just hearing that, you know, they hadn't -- they probably know by now. But knowing that they were in the air had to be just devastating for Kevin, because, you know, he wanted -- obviously, he probably wanted to meet them at the airport.

COOPER: What was it about flying? Did you ever talk about that with him. Do you understand what that passion was?

RADANO: Oh, we understood it. You couldn't get away without talking to Cory about flying.

COOPER: Oh, really? He talked -- he talked to everyone about it?

RADANO: Oh, yes.

Whenever Cory was passionate about something, he was going the talk to you about it. One of the superstitions of starting pitchers is, they don't like to talk before a game that they're pitching in.

Well, Cory would always come over to me the days he's pitching. He goes: Hey, I saw Pine Valley today. You know what that means?

Yes, Cory. You were in the air today.

He loved flying. And he attacked it with a passion. It's all he talked about for the past I would say about 10 months, since he called me in December, and told me, you know, he had some questions about flying in the Phillies contract. So, he said: You know, I want to do this. What do you think?

I'm like, you got to do what you got to do.

COOPER: Because there's concern, I guess, in -- in one -- in these baseball contracts, given what has happened, I guess, with Thurman Munson back in '79. They basically have it written in the contract that, if you choose to do something like flying on your own time, if you die, you don't get the rest of the contract. Your -- your survivors don't get the contract.

That is my understanding.

RADANO: Right.

There is standard language. And it's in the Phillies contract as well. But, if you look at that, that also includes hunting. And, you know, you're not -- technically, you're not supposed to mow your lawn. So, he understood what was in the contract.

But what we said to him, you know, part of the contract says that if you are injured. He said, if I'm injured in the plane, there's a lot more problems going on than, you know, just my contract.

You know, his contract was up. He was going to be a free agent right now. So, he understood what the contract was. But, if you look at those -- the exact wording, most players do go a little bit over the line, because they will do things, because it is still their own time. And they understand that it's in the contract. It's to protect the clubs, to a point.

COOPER: What do you -- I mean, we all -- there -- there are so many questions that need to be answered about what happened and what -- what went wrong.

What -- what are most -- the biggest questions in your mind? I mean, what do you want to know right now? RADANO: You know, when he -- there was a -- you know, a mayday, I believe, sent out.

I -- I'm trying to figure out why he was flying at this time. If -- you know, it sounds like he was ready to go home. And, obviously, Melanie and Christopher were on the plane. So, I'm trying to figure out why he was flying on this day.

But, probably, knowing him, he just wanted to get out one more time, before he went home to California, because his plane is here. You know, he was very passionate about it. And, any chance he got to fly, he was going to do it. Even if it was a little bit -- you know, I don't know what the weather was up there. It looked like it was a bit cloudy. I know it has been raining in Philadelphia all day. So...

COOPER: Yes. It's been pretty miserable here.

RADANO: ... that -- that's my biggest question is, why is he -- why today? Why did you have to go up today?

And, you know, again, I don't know the particulars. Maybe he was heading somewhere to fly out. I don't know.

COOPER: Well, apparently, he had told teammates and -- and other family members that he had planned to actually fly to California to head home after the season was over. I don't know if -- if today was the first day of that.

But I guess that's just one of the many questions we're trying to get answered.

Mike, I -- I'm glad you came on. And I appreciate you talking about your friend.

What -- what do you want people to -- to -- to remember about him, to -- what should they know about him?

RADANO: Just that, you know, he -- he had a zest for life.

You know, he had -- golf was a passion. He loved playing poker. You know, he would talk to us endlessly about poker. He loved his wife, and he loved his kid. He was just -- you know, you look at it, he was a passionate human being. And -- and -- and he had a zest for life. That's what you really got to know.

COOPER: Mike, appreciate it. Thank you.

RADANO: No problem.

COOPER: For a few heart-stopping moments, today's crash in New York City looked like -- well, it looked like it might be 9/11 all over again.

Coming up: a look at how the first-responders answered the call today, and not just how in New York City, but also at the Department of Homeland Security.

Plus, the question many are asking: Why was a plane allowed so close to tall buildings in the first place? Some surprising answers -- when 360 continues.


COOPER: Rating the responders -- a look at how well local and national authorities reacted to today's high-rise plane crash in New York City. Have the lessons of 9/11 been learned?

360 next.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that's when I saw that plane in the corner of my eye that's kind of -- kind of hooking -- it kind of just hooked. And I lost sight of them. But now I'm looking north now. I see my cousin with this panicked look on his face. He's saying, it's going to hit.


COOPER: Well, investigators have been searching outside the building. You are looking at a live picture at the scene right now.

Also, a reminder: We are expecting a news conference shortly from the NTSB. We are going to, of course, bring you any developments from it as they happen.

On any given day here in the New York area, there are thousands of planes in the sky. Here's the "Raw Data" on it.

Last year, there were nearly 1.2 million flights in the area -- 1.2 million. Of those, more than 193,000 took off from or landed at Teterboro Airport, where Cory Lidle had his plane. Now, you don't go there to catch a flight on United or U.S. Airways, but Teterboro is one of the busiest general aviation airports in the country. It's also one of the four so-called regional airports near New York and three major commercial airports, JFK, La Guardia, and Newark Liberty.

Today, when Cory Lidle's plane hit the high-rise, New York, well, they held its breath, and hoped that what it was not seeing was history repeating itself.

CNN's Randi Kaye reports.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The scene is eerily familiar: a plane, a tall building on fire, an emergency call for help.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There was like a hole in -- in the building, with flames shooting out. And you're thinking the poor people that were in that building. I'm thinking terrorists.

KAYE: At 2:42 p.m., just 12 minutes after the plane takes off from New Jersey's Teterboro Airport, New York City police get word of the crash. Immediately, officers are dispatched to the scene.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (R), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: Massive and quick and coordinated, I think, is a good ways to phrase it. Everybody was able to get their equipment through traffic here. Response time was -- was very fast.

KAYE: Within minutes, the New York Fire Department dispatches 168 officers from 39 different units. They work side by side on the street with police. Unlike 9/11, radio communication is unnecessary.

BLOOMBERG: Fire department got lines pretty quickly up on the two floors to knock down the fire. Police department had control of the whole area. Together they went to every apartment and knocked on the door and helped anybody out.

KAYE: By 3 p.m., about 20 minutes after the crash, the FAA sets up a conference call to disseminate details to reporters. At the same time, the White House is looped in.

President Bush is briefed about the crash by homeland security adviser Fran Townsend. White House officials begin gathering information and closely monitoring the incident. There is no change in security measures or alert status.

By 3:13 p.m., the Coast Guard begins to move small boats and a cutter to the East River near the building. Just as a precaution. Five minutes later two units from the FBI's joint terrorism task force get involved in the response.

By 3:26, Norad, North American Aerospace Defense Command, is on alert and putting fighter aircraft in the air above a number of U.S. cities in case. Same thing they did after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

ADM. TIM KEATING, U.S. NORTHERN COMMAND: We have fighters on both coasts and on our east and west borders. All within -- well, under 20 minutes fighters were airborne.

KAYE: The same city that knows what it feels like when disaster strikes and communication fails now knows what it feels like when things appear to work.

BLOOMBERG: Everything that we planned to handle an emergency like this was carried out to the book exactly the ways that we had wanted it to go.


COOPER: And what else was deployed out there by emergency teams? I mean, they didn't really know what they were getting into in the initial minutes.

KAYE: No, they certainly didn't, Anderson. We're getting late word tonight from the New York Police Department special operations unit that they actually deployed six ships to the area, to the river there, the East River, and on those ships they had heavy weaponry, because as you said, they had no idea what they were getting themselves into.

They also had a parachute device just in case they needed to rescue someone from that building. They had flotation devices because at first they thought that this plane had actually gone down in the water. They had scuba teams on standby. They also had search and rescue teams ready to go through the building.

So certainly, Anderson, they wanted to be prepared this time, and it does appear that they were.

COOPER: Hmm. We're going the talk to the security expert, Pat D'Amuro, a little bit more a little later on 360. Randi, thanks.

And it wasn't just emergency crews responding to the crash. A crisis plan was put in effect at a preschool just a block away. We're going to tell you what was done to keep the kids safe.

And the thrill of flying -- flying. More and more celebrities are becoming pilots. A look at why that is and, well, if it's a recipe for trouble. Stay tuned.



CORY LIDLE, NEW YORK YANKEES PITCHER: I found out that I love it. You know, one thing I'm not going to do is beg anyone to do with me. If they don't want do go with me, if they're scared or they don't trust me, that's fine. It's not going to hurt my feelings, but I love it. I'm going to continue to do it.


COOPER: Well, that was Cory Lidle talking last April about his love of flying.

Just after his plane flew into a New York high-rise building today, one block away, 160 kids were evacuated from their preschool.

CNN's Alina Cho was there.


ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Three-year-old Jonah Naidus still has no idea what happened in the backyard of his nursery school. Mother Ruth Naidus was at home at the time, just a few blocks away. She heard the sirens, saw the helicopters and dropped everything to get to her son.

RUTH NAIDUS, MOTHER: I was running and I was crying and people probably looking at me and, you know, just -- I don't care what they thought. I just -- you know? You're just scared. CHO: Naidus calls the run from the home to the son's preschool the longest 15 minutes of her life.

NAIDUS: Nothing mattered. Just had to get there and just get him and that was it. I was completely focused on that.

CHO: Some of the 160 preschoolers were just back from apple picking. The children were on their way up to the roof top playground when a teacher heard an explosion, looked outside, saw the flames and immediately put into action an evacuation plan, in place since 9/11.

WENDY LEVEY, EPIPHANY NURSERY SCHOOL: My first thought was we know how to what to do. We know how to handle this. With have a plan. We have a place to go.

CHO: That place to go was the church across the street, where teachers sang to the kids and read them stories. The idea, the best way to protect the children was to distract them.

EVAN LEVEY, EPIPHANY NURSERY SCHOOL: Their initial reaction is excitement. They don't know. It's just fire trucks and stuff they like to see. So we do have to distinguish the fact that this is not safe.

CHO: For Ruth Naidus and so many other New Yorkers, a plane crash is not always an accident. There are always thoughts of terrorism. Life in New York is scary, she says. But she appreciates the little things, a little more than most.

(on camera) So are you going to hug your kids a little tighter tonight?

NAIDUS: Yes, I definitely am.

CHO (voice-over): Alina Cho, CNN, New York.


COOPER: He's a super hero. He doesn't need to worry.

We want to remind you again, we are expecting a live NTSB press conference sometime within the next half hour. We're going to bring it to you live. Of course, a lot of questions remain. We hope to get some of the answers to that.

One of the things we'd like to start to hear more about is why are planes still allowed to fly so close to New York skyscrapers? That was on the minds of a lot of New Yorkers today. Is this a gaping hole in aviation security? Or is it just business as usual? That angle when 360 continues.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In less than 10 minutes, for example, we had fighters airborne over New York City and Washington. So I think message to the terrorists is, we're ready.


COOPER: Well, it turned out, of course, that terrorism was not the cause of today's crash. But the mere possibility was raising a lot of questions today. First, about small planes as terror weapons but also whether any small aircraft should be allowed to be so close to big buildings.

CNN's Deborah Feyerick takes a look at that.


DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Imagine if the crash had not been an accident but a deliberate terror attack on a high value target, like the United Nations, the Brooklyn Bridge, even a packed stadium.

It takes only seconds for a small plane to veer off course with fatal consequences.

Pat D'Amuro ran the FBI's counterterrorism unit.

PAT D'AMURO, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: One small aircraft is not going to create the type of havoc that al Qaeda would like, but it still is a concern for the lone wolf that may be sympathetic to a radical fundamentalism cause or any type of cause across the globe to commit suicide for this type of attack.

FEYERICK: Counter terrorism officials talked about the possibility someone could load a plane with explosives or use a plane itself as a flying bomb as happened in 9/11.

Commercial planes have much tighter security than private planes and corporate jets that takeoff from small airports across the country. At places like Teterboro Airport, where Cory Lidle began his flight, pilots and passengers are supposed to show identification.

But experts say there are many small airports where essentially no one is overseeing who's really on those planes. No one is screening bags or cargo, and the pilot doesn't even have to file a flight plan.

Air space over Manhattan is restricted to commercial planes. Private aircraft can fly along the city's rivers.

D'AMURO: I'm sure there's going to be a review of what happened in this situation and does there need to be a further review of what small aircraft can access what air space around the city? And will they continue to allow some of these corridors to be accessed by this particular type of aircraft?

FEYERICK: An aviation security officials tells CNN the country faces threats every day, and it would be a stretch to suggest rules governing general aviation are the problem. Even so, small planes are not allowed to land at Reagan national and Washington, D.C. for fear a terrorist could slam into the White House or other high value target, a plot first conceived by the 1993 World Trade Center bomber, Ramzi Yousef.

Fighter planes were scrambled following the crash. Counter terrorism officials tell CNN even if those planes were in the air, it takes only seconds for a small plane to change course, with deadly results.

Asked "are we safe," one counter terror expert replied, when it comes to smaller planes the door remains wide open.

Deborah Feyerick, CNN, New York.


COOPER: We just heard from Pat D'Amuro, CNN security analyst and the chairman and CEO of Giuliani security and safety in Deborah's report.

I spoke to him earlier tonight.


COOPER: When everybody heard about this crash, it reminded us obviously of 9/11 and those early moments of 9/11 when it was just a report of a small plane crashing into the World Trade Center.

How do you think the response was today? Federal, state, local.

D'AMURO: I think the response was outstanding. I think the first responders, you know, when you have a situation like this, you have consequence management, you have crisis management. And the consequence management side, the fire department, the first responders are there to try to minimize the loss of life, to get the fire under control, to evacuate the building.

COOPER: About 160 firefighters on the scene.

D'AMURO: Right.

And then the crisis management comes in later to try to determine exactly what happened. So I think the response was outstanding.

I mean, the building for this response started a long time ago. It started in the Giuliani administration, when the Office of Emergency Management was created for just this -- this was one of their missions was to create the protocols for the federal, state and local agencies.

COOPER: But I mean, can the fire department talk to the police department? I mean, before there were -- you know, the radios didn't even work.

D'AMURO: Yes. There's still problems with communications like that. There's still interagency battles.

COOPER: The radios still don't work. They don't talk to each other?

D'AMURO: I don't believe they still have the communication capability to communicate with all the different federal and state agencies, no.

COOPER: Should New York be reexamining -- you know, basically airplanes can travel, small craft and helicopters up and down the rivers, the East River and the Hudson River. Should they be reexamining them and allowing small planes close to buildings?

D'AMURO: Well, Anderson, I think that's something to come out of this. I mean, when you look at the number of small planes today that are flying, I mean, we were talking about Teterboro earlier.

The number of aircraft coming out of that airport. I flew out just the other day, and the flight was delayed 45 minutes because of the number of aircraft. So they're going to take a look at some of the flight restrictions and they're going reviewing that, I'm sure.

COOPER: Does -- does it open up any questions about monitoring of aircraft? I mean, basically, they lost contact with this aircraft around the 59th Street Bridge, about a mile before it actually hit.

D'AMURO: Yes. It does. I mean, one of the missions that we created in Washington with the FBI after 9/11 was that nobody was really paying attention to the smaller airports and a lot of the smaller aircraft and put a tasking to all the joint terrorism task forces to go out and make contact with these airports, find out what kind of aircraft was flying there, what security procedures.

The security procedures at some of these small airports are still not where they should be. That includes the radar in some of these small aircraft. They talked a little bit today about having a F-16 in the air to put a cap over a city to take out a small aircraft if necessary. Well, that's very difficult to do.

COOPER: You can basically, with a small airport like Teterboro, which is where this plane flew out of, and put just about anything on board a plane. There's not really a lot of people looking at it.

D'AMURO: There's not a lot of security at some of those places. You're right.

COOPER: Appreciate you joining us. Thanks.

D'AMURO: Thanks.

COOPER: As we mentioned, Cory Lidle wasn't the first New York Yankee to die in a small plane crash. Thurmond Munson was killed back in 1979, you may remember. And when you think about it, there have been so many plane crashes involving celebrities. John F. Kennedy Jr. to name one.

Why do so many famous people fly their own planes? That and more on 360 next.


COOPER: Well, Cory Lidle is certainly not the first celebrity to die in a plane crash. Almost since the birth of aviation, the rich and well-known have fallen in love with flying. But as CNN's Gary Tuchman tells us, it can sometimes be a fatal attraction.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ever since Amelia Earhart's plane disappeared in 1937, when she tried to become the first woman to fly around the world, stories of celebrity pilot crashes have commanded the world's attention.

Just over six decades later, the death of John F. Kennedy Jr. stunned the nation. The son of the 35th president of the United States we flying with his wife and his sister-in-law from New Jersey to Martha's Vineyard when his plane disappeared. JFK Jr. apparently became disoriented, and the plane plunged into the ocean.

Vigils were held for days outside JFK Jr.'s Manhattan apartment.

In the entertainment world, singer John Denver was killed. His experimental single engine plane crashed in Monterey, California. He was 53 years old when the plane went down in 1997.

Cory Lidle not the only professional athlete to die in a plane he was piloting and not the only New York Yankee. Hall of Fame catcher Thurmond Munson was killed in 1979 while practicing landings near his home in Ohio. Investigators say the plane flew too low during one of the attempted landings and clipped a tree. Munson was the Yankee captain at the time.

The nature of Cory Lidle's death is shocking, but we've been shocked like this before.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Atlanta.


COOPER: We're going to have more on today's plane crash and the death of Cory Lidle coming up. We are anticipating a press conference any moment now. That's an NTSB news conference. We'll bring that to you live when it starts.

But first Erica Hill from Headline News has a 360 bulletin -- Erica.

ERICA HILL, HEADLINE NEWS ANCHOR: Anderson, we begin with a controversial report on the number of Iraqi war deaths. Iraqi and U.S. public health researchers estimate nearly 655,000 Iraqis died as a result of the war. Now that number comes from a survey of Iraqi homes.

President Bush, though, calls the findings not credible. A U.S. commander put the Iraqi death toll at 50,000.

The California man known as the American al Qaeda has been indicted on charges of treason and offering material support for terrorism. Adam Gadahn has appeared in propaganda videos for al Qaeda, including one that surfaced last month.

Gadahn has been on the FBI's most wanted terrorist list since 2004. He's believed to be living in Pakistan. There's a $1 million reward for information leading to his arrest.

North Korea says it will consider any increased pressure from the United States as a declaration of war. President Bush once again today saying, though, the U.S. is committed to diplomacy but that it does reserve the right to defend its friends and interests.

The U.N. Is still considering sanctions against North Korea after it said it carried out a nuclear attack -- nuclear test, pardon me, earlier this week.

At least five people are dead after a passenger train collided with a freight train today near the France-Luxembourg border today. French officials say the impact of that crash compressed train cars together, trapping passengers in the wreckage. At this point, Anderson, the exact cause of that crash is still unknown.

COOPER: Terrible. Erica, thanks.

HILL: See you later.

COOPER: We're going to have more on the final moments of Cory Lidle's last flight. In a moment we're expecting, as I said, a briefing shortly from the NTSB.

Also, what the Yankee pitcher may have been up against as he and a flight instructor made their way through some of the busiest air space in the country.

And in other news tonight, another shoe drops in the Foley page scandal. More testimony before the FBI. You're watching 360. Stay tuned.


COOPER: New numbers for civilian casualties in Iraq and how does Iraq play in the elections four weeks away? Stay tuned next on 360.


COOPER: Terrorism, no. Terrifying? You bet. As people looked up and saw a skyscraper in flames.


ANNOUNCER: Fatal flight. A plane slams into a New York high- rise, killing a New York Yankees' pitcher.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was so scared. I thought it was another terrorist attack.

ANNOUNCER: Five years after 9/11, why was a plane able to hit New York again? Tonight, all the angles and the questions.

A staggering toll. More than half a million Iraqis dead. It's a surprise to the Pentagon, which now plans for U.S. troops in Iraq for years to come.

And framing the issues.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think the elections will be decided by security and the economy.

ANNOUNCER: Just weeks before the midterm elections, the president shifts the focus to war and away from Foley. Will it work?

Across the country and around the world, this is ANDERSON COOPER 360. Reporting tonight from the CNN studios in New York, here's Anderson Cooper.



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