Reports indicated that the plane took off from Teterboro Airport in New Jersey at 2:21 p.m. ET, crashing into the 40th floor of the East 72nd Street building roughly 15 minutes later.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that two people on the plane were killed, but nobody in the building or on the street died in the accident. The second victim was Tyler Stanger, the instructor who taught Lidle to fly last winter.
Over the weekend in Detroit, Lidle discussed his flight plan with teammates. Yankees outfielder Aaron Guiel said Wednesday that Lidle planned to take the cross-country trip with Stanger.
"This is a terrible and shocking tragedy that has stunned the entire Yankees organization," Yankees 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."
Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig echoed such sentiments.
"All of baseball is shocked and terribly saddened by the sudden and tragic passing of Cory Lidle," Commissioner Selig said. "Cory was only 34 years old and had played in the Major Leagues for nine seasons with seven different clubs. He leaves a young wife, Melanie, and a young son, Christopher. Our hearts go out to them on this terrible day."
The single-engine plane, a Cirrus SR20, was purchased by Lidle last offseason for $187,000 after he earned his pilot's license.
Lidle, whose team was eliminated from postseason play on Saturday by the Detroit Tigers, told reporters on Sunday that he planned to fly home to California on Wednesday. He said it would take roughly 15 hours of flying time, though he planned on stopping at least twice, including stops in Tennessee and Arizona. He was scheduled to arrive in Southern California by Saturday.
Initially, the crash sparked fears throughout New York, as the accident occurred just a few miles north of the World Trade Center. The FBI and the Dept. of Homeland Security quickly said there was no evidence it was anything but an accident. Nevertheless, within 10 minutes of the crash, fighter jets were over several cities, including New York, Washington, Detroit, Los Angeles and Seattle, Pentagon officials said.
Within an hour or so, word began to spread that Lidle was involved.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman learned of the accident shortly after 4 p.m., and he said the news "seemed to get worse" as each call came in regarding the situation.
"I enjoyed talking to him. I saw him in chess matches all the time with other guys," Cashman said Wednesday night. "He was a competitive pitcher both here and elsewhere. He just seemed like a good guy."
Cashman said that Lidle's wife, Melanie, was on a commercial flight headed for California and was not on board Lidle's plane. She landed at Los Angeles International Airport shortly before 9 p.m. ET and was informed of Lidle's passing.
"I'm still in deep shock," Cashman said. "It's very hard to believe."
"This is a terrible shock," Yankees manager Joe Torre said in a statement. "I was with Ron Guidry and Lee Mazzilli when I heard the news, and we were just stunned. Cory's time with the Yankees was short, but he was a good teammate and a great competitor. My heart goes out to his family."
Kevin Lidle, Cory's twin brother, said on CNN's "Larry King Live" that he had spoken to their parents, who were "obviously having a tough time."
"But what can you do? Somehow you hang in there and you get through it," Kevin said. "I've had a lot of calls from friends and family, people calling and crying. And they've released some emotions, and I haven't done that yet. I don't know -- I guess I'm in some kind of state of shock."
Mary Varela, Lidle's mother-in-law, told reporters outside Lidle's Glendora, Calif., home that Melanie Lidle wasn't home and they weren't certain if she knew about the crash.
"This is a tragedy for everybody involved," a teary-eyed Varela said.
Lidle's agent, Jordan Feagan, told Newsday he was told by the Yankees that Lidle was among the fatalities in the crash.
"He wasn't just my client," Feagan said. "He was probably my closest friend."
FAA records showed the plane was registered to Lidle, an FBI official said, and FBI reports show that Lidle's passport was found at the scene.
FAA spokeswoman Diane Spitaliere said the plane was apparently not in contact with air traffic controllers. Pilots flying small planes by sight are not required to be in contact.
ABC News reported Wednesday that after Lidle's plane departed Teterboro, it took a normal flight pattern down the Hudson River, appeared to have circled the Statue of Liberty, then headed up the East River. Guiel said he thought Lidle may have been flying toward Yankee Stadium to take one more look at the ballpark before heading west.
The plane fell off the radar at about 59th Street. The apartment the plane crashed into was the entire 40th floor of the building, and it appears two other apartments on the 41st floor suffered from the impact. Mets third-base coach Manny Acta is a resident of the building, called The Belaire, which was built in the late 1980s and has 183 apartments.
The FAA said it was too early to determine what might have caused the crash. The National Transportation Safety Board sent investigators.
Lidle's interest in flying was examined in a New York Times story on Sept. 8. In that article, Lidle discussed the safety issues regarding the plane.
"The whole plane has a parachute on it," Lidle told the Times. "Ninety-nine percent of pilots that go up never have engine failure, and the one percent that do usually land it. But if you're up in the air and something goes wrong, you pull that parachute, and the whole plane goes down slowly."
Lidle also talked about the airplane's safety in an interview with MLB.com in February.
"If you're 7,000 feet in the air and your engine stops, you can glide for 20 minutes," Lidle said at the time. "As long as you're careful, everything should be fine."
There have been several fatal plane crashes involving Major League players, the two most famous being the one that killed Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente in 1972, and the one in which Yankees captain Thurman Munson died in 1979.
Lidle, a right-hander, was acquired by the Yankees from the Philadelphia Phillies on July 30 in a trade that also brought right fielder Bobby Abreu to New York. Lidle went 4-3 with a 5.16 ERA in 10 games, nine of them starts, for the Yankees.
Lidle also pitched for the Mets, Devil Rays, A's, Blue Jays and Reds. He played in all or parts of nine Major League seasons and had a career record of 82-72.
Donald Fehr, executive director of the MLB Players Association, issued a statement after learning of the news.
"We were very shocked and saddened to learn of the fatal plane crash involving Cory Lidle," Fehr said, "and our thoughts and prayers go out to Cory's family and friends, and to the families and friends of others killed or injured in this terrible accident."
"The Phillies family is extremely saddened by the tragic news involving Cory Lidle," Phillies president David Montgomery said in a statement. "Our thoughts and prayers are extended to his wife, Melanie, son, Christopher, and those families who were affected by the terrible incident in New York."
Yankees captain Derek Jeter added in statement: "I am shocked by this devastating news. Spending the last few months as Cory's teammate, I came to know him as a great man. While he was known as a baseball player, he was, more importantly, a husband and father and, at a time like this, I want to share my deepest sympathies with his wife, Melanie, his son, Christopher, and all those who know and loved him."
Mark Feinsand is a reporter for MLB.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.