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Cory Lidle-What Really Happened and why?

Cory Lidle and Tyler Stanger, his flight instructor crashed into a high rise apartment building this week. What does his death teach us about good solid decision making in our own lives. First of all, accidents resulting in death in private plane accidents are fairly common, and certainly much more common than you would normally believe.

First you need to know some of the facts in the Cory Lidle story. The Yankee pitcher was flying north along the narrow East River. As you fly north the East side of Manhattan where the United Nations is located is on your left while Queens and Roosevelt Island are on your right.

Competent pilots avoid this narrow 2000 foot wide river at all costs. It is like flying in between mountains. In this case, the pilots had buildings and other structures on both sides of them while flying North at 112 miles per hour at an altitude of 700 feet. Here’s the problem. Once you get to above the 96th Street in Manhattan on the East River, you are not allowed to continue to head north without contacting flight controllers to ask permission.

This is because commercial passenger aircraft could be flying right across your path as they head for a landing at LaGuardia Airport 2 minutes away. The commercial flights travel across Manhattan over the East River, and head for LaGuardia in Queens. If there are no commercial aircraft on the flight path, LaGuardia gives permission, and you continue up the East River.

Prior to taking off, Teterboro Airport flight controllers had inquired as to whether they should put Lidle in contact with LaGuardia controllers. He indicated no that there was no need because he expected to head North up the East River, and then South down the same river. This means Lidle expected to do a U-Turn over a river that was 2000 feet wide.

We know that Cory Lidle’s plane chose not to violate the air space immediately in front of him. We don’t know whose hands were on the controls, but that plane suddenly turned west above 72nd Street, and was heading over Manhattan. We do know that his co-pilot Tyler Stanger had only been up that river once in his career; keep in mind he was a California pilot. He was here to help Cory fly his plane back to California for the rest of the year. We don’t know if Cory, or his 26 year old friend Tyler was flying the plane.

The decision that resulted in death for both pilots was made the moment the plane banked left, and was headed towards Manhattan. Here’s why. At 112 mph, that plane is doing 9,855 feet per minute, or 164 feet per second. You have a thousand feet on each side of you on that river. You are in between building structures on both sides. If you turn left you have a shade over 6 seconds before you have buildings in your face. You divide 1000 feet of air corridor by 164 feet per second, and you get 6 seconds.

The plane was at an altitude of 500 feet when it banked left. We know this from reconstructed radar reports that were tracking the plane. Six seconds is your DECISION WINDOW (DW). A DW is the amount of time you have to make a decision. If you do not make the decision during the time that the DECISION WINDOW is open, than the decision is already made for you by you not making a decision.

Whoever was at the controls panicked during the time of the DECISION WINDOW. They saw structures and building right before their eyes, and they couldn’t handle it, or it was too late. In my opinion, the moment that plane banked to the left while it was in the river corridor was the moment that their fate was sealed.

Even a test pilot, the kinds of guys who become astronauts would have had problems handling what happened after that turn was made. In the case of Cory Lidle and his instructor, there was just no shot at survival. His associate, Stanger had only been up that river once before. Neither gentleman had the experience in that specific situation to make this left turn happen.

There is nothing that compares to a reservoir of experience, when you run into trouble. There’s more, Lidle was not at a point in his training where he was flying with unconscious expertise. Do you remember when you first learned to drive a car? You had no idea how much to turn that steering wheel unless you were actually in the process of turning it. We call this conscious, and unconscious incompetence.

You have to consciously turn that steering wheel while in the turn. For the next few weeks, every time you go into a turn, you are still consciously turning that wheel trying to figure out how much to turn it. You are becoming CONSCIOUSLY COMPETENT. After a couple of weeks, you get the hang of it, and your fingers know just how far to turn that wheel. You are becoming UNCONSCIOUSLY COMPETENT. This means you know how to do what you do without having to think about it. Your unconscious controls the turns.

It’s the same with a new pilot. For the first 100 hours of flying after you get your license, you are still trying to learn to be consciously competent. You have to think about how to do everything. It obviously takes longer to do things while you are gaining this conscious competence. Cory Lidle was still at the point of developing his conscious competencies when he made that turn. It would have taken him longer to react than a pilot with more experience. This also cost him his life.

At the time of the crash, this young man had 70 hours of flight experience. This is a major contributor to the fatal crash. The real danger for a pilot comes at about a 100 hours of experience, up until about 400 hours of experience. The 100 hour barrier is when a pilot becomes unconsciously competent. He thinks he knows how to fly an airplane.

A new pilot becomes COCKY at 100 hours, and cocky pilots die at the controls. As the captain of the aircraft carrier said to Tom Cruise in the movie Top Gun, son, “Your ego is writing checks that your body can’t cash”.

Our hearts go out to the families of these two men, may we all learn from their tragic experience.

Richard Stoyeck

About the Author: Richard Stoyeck’s background includes being a limited partner at Bear Stearns, Senior VP at Lehman Brothers, Kuhn Loeb, Arthur Andersen, and KPMG. Educated at Pace University, NYU, and Harvard University, today he runs Rockefeller Capital Partners and

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