Monday, October 16, 2006

I am a subject matter expert.

True story.

The day of the tragic Lidle plane crash, I'm on the phone with Ross (shocking, I know) and almost by nature, we slide into that morbid world of tasteless jokes and ghoulish fantasy. In an inappropriately callous way, I mention all the possible Law & Order: CI plot lines and conspiracy theories - faked death because of gambling debts, wife kills him for the insurance, disliked by the players because he was a scab during the strike, etc. And naturally, the obvious one: stuck with overpriced contracts and underachieving choke artist players, Steinbrenner takes matters into his own hands, carrying out swift and terrible vengeance.

"A-Rod better watch his back!" I snidely comment.

Saturday morning, I wake up to this story:

A-Rod's plane goes off runway
Oct. 14, 2006. 01:00 AM

A private jet carrying Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez and six others overran a runway at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, Calif., yesterday and was brought to a halt by an arresting system.

"I spoke to Alex. He's fine," agent Scott Boras said.

None of the seven people aboard the Gulfstream G-II, coming from Las Vegas, were injured, federal officials said.


*That's the Law & Order sting music.

Meanwhile, I provide the Lowell Sun with some local flavor for the tragedy.

A momentary flashback to 9/11 -- then relief
Lowell Sun

It was a moment that you could see on people's faces.

"It was like, 'Oh my God,' " said Andover native Bernadett Vajda.

Vajda was on a cross-town bus, driving through Manhattan. The news was that a plane crashed into a high-rise. Thoughts of Sept. 11 were automatic.

"When you first hear something like that here, you can immediately see it on people's faces," Vajda said.

In New York City, though, people carry on.

The bus kept rolling, and people went on with their routines.

It was not long at all before word came that the crash was merely an accident, not terrorism.

It was about 3 p.m., and Chelmsford native Benari Poulten got the news when he was in work at New York University, where he is a graduate student in Lower Manhattan.

He learned of the crash from a Google news alert, and within moments his phone was ringing.

"People just started calling to see if I was OK or if I knew anything," he said.

Poulten, who like Vajda used to work for U.S. Rep. Marty Meehan, knew almost immediately that the crash was not an attack, but said it still sent chills down his spine.

"It's definitely on everyone's mind here," he said of terrorism.

It was the same last week when Vajda was in midtown, near 53rd and Lexington, when there was a bomb scare caused by a suspicious package.

"There's always something happening in New York," she said.

The plane crash briefly sparked fears across the entire city, but Poulten praised how quickly officials figured out what had happened and got out word that the city was not under attack.

It turned out that the single-engine plane was carrying New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle and another man when it slammed into the side of The Belaire -- a red-brick tower overlooking the East River -- and sent flaming debris onto sidewalks below.

An intense fire raged inside the apartments where the plane had struck. Firefighters put it out within an hour, but at least 21 people were taken to the hospital, most of them firefighters. Their conditions were not immediately available.

A law-enforcement official in Washington said Lidle -- an avid pilot who got his license during last year's off-season -- was aboard the plane when it plowed into the 30th and 31st floors.

He and the other man, who was not identified, were killed.

It was not immediately clear who was piloting the plane at the time. It had taken off from New Jersey's Teterboro Airport barely 15 minutes earlier. It was not immediately known where the plane was headed.

The FAA and NTSB are investigating.

Despite the momentary scare -- which even prompted the launch of fighter jets over several cities, including New York, Washington, Detroit, Los Angeles and Seattle, according to Pentagon officials -- New York City kept moving.

"You can see the reaction on their faces, but they just pick up and go and keep moving," Vajda said of those in her city. "You can't slow down in New York. You'll get run over."

Robert Mills' e-mail address is

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.