A small plane slammed into a 40-story apartment building, killing two people in a crash that rained flaming debris onto the sidewalks and briefly raised fears of another terrorist attack. A member of the New York Yankees baseball team was one of the presumed victims.
The single-engine aircraft plowed into the 30th and 31st floors of The Belaire condominium high-rise on Manhattan's Upper East Side on Wednesday afternoon.
It touched off a raging fire that cast a pillar of black smoke over the city and sent flames shooting from four windows on two adjoining floors. Firefighters put the blaze out in less than an hour.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said both people aboard were killed. He said the plane's occupants were sightseeing and were taking a route that took them over the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Empire State Building.
A law enforcement official in Washington said 34-year-old Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle, an avid pilot who got his license last year, was aboard. It was not immediately clear who the second person aboard was.
At least 21 people were taken to hospital, most of them firefighters. Their conditions were not disclosed.
The crash rattled New Yorkers' nerves five years after the Sept. 11 attacks, but the FBI and the Homeland Security quickly said there was no evidence it was anything but an accident. Nevertheless, within 10 minutes of the crash, fighter jets were sent aloft over several cities, including New York, Pentagon officials said.
The incident raised questions about how a plane could get so close to a New York City building after the Sept. 11 attacks.
"We're under a high alert and you would assume that if something like this happened, people would have known about it before it occurred, not after," said former National Transportation Safety Board director Jim Hall in a telephone interview.
Despite initial fears of a terrorist attack, all three New York City-area airports continued to operate normally, US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) spokesman Jim Peters said.
The craft took off from New Jersey's Teterboro Airport shortly before 2:30pm and was in the air for about 20 minutes, authorities said.
A federal official, speaking on condition of anonymity, had said the plane issued a distress call before the crash. But National Transportation Safety Board member Debbie Hersman said at a late-night news conference that the FAA found no indication of a mayday call.