Yankees pitcher piloted crash plane [+pictures]

NEW YORK - A New York Yankees baseball player was killed when his small aircraft crashed into a 52-storey building on Manhattan's Upper East Side in overcast weather today.

The four-seat plane was owned and piloted by Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle, 34, who died along with another person, a flying instructor.

"This is a terrible and shocking tragedy that has stunned the entire Yankees organisation," club owner George Steinbrenner said in a statement.

"I offer my deep condolences and prayers to his wife Melanie and son Christopher on their enormous loss."

Smoke and flames poured from the upper floors of the high-rise building and more than 100 firefighters were sent to the scene, reviving memories of the September 11 attacks.

>> Watch footage from the scene

>>Yankees previously concerned about Lidle piloting own plane

In a city still jittery after the attacks more than five years ago, US and New York officials were quick to say - even before Lidle was identified as the pilot - they had no reason to believe the crash was related to terrorism.

Born in Hollywood, California, Lidle appeared last Saturday as a relief pitcher in the Yankees' final game of the season when they lost an American League playoff series to the Tigers in Detroit. His journeyman Major League career began with the New York Mets in 1997.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said 11 firefighters were taken to a hospital. Kathy Robinson, a spokeswoman for nearby New York Presbyterian hospital, said the facility had treated an additional five civilians for injuries.

Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson, who worked with Lidle when they both played for the Oakland Athletics, said of his friend's death: "You feel like your soul has been totally bruised."

"The reaction is just total disbelief," he told reporters at Shea Stadium.

Military fighter jets patrolled several US cities as a precaution, the North American Aerospace Defence Command said.

On Wall Street, US stocks extended losses but quickly recovered once it became clear the crash was not an attack similar to the hijacked plane attacks of September 11, 2001.

The plane took off from Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, just miles from Manhattan, and circled the Statue of Liberty before flying north and eventually crashing, Bloomberg told reporters at a briefing.

The aircraft crashed at East 72nd St. and York Avenue, near the East River, a 1980s building housing mainly upscale residential apartments but which also has a specialised hospital on the bottom 12 floors.

Luis Gonzales, 23, was working in the building remodelling a nearby apartment and saw the crash.

"I was looking out the window and I saw the plane coming so close to us and it swerved to try and avoid the building but it hit the building," he said. "I am still shaking."

John Madden from Tampa, Florida, in New York on business, was in the building next to the crash site. "The whole building shook, and we were told to evacuate."

The plane was flying by visual flight rules, meaning the pilot does not have to be in contact with air traffic controllers.

- REUTERS

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