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Yankees Pitcher Dead; Almost 655,000 Iraqis Died As Result of Iraq War

Aired October 11, 2006 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Thanks very much, Kitty. And to our viewers, you are in THE SITUATION ROOM where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you tonight's top stories.
Happening now, breaking news. A sports figure dies in a terrifying plane disaster. We now have confirmation that New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle was killed when his plane slammed into a high rise condominium.

It's 7:00 p.m. in New York City where investigators are at the crash scene and new details are emerging right now.

Also this hour, the images were horrifyingly familiar, five years after 9/11. Harsh realities for New Yorkers and serious questions about how this accident could have happened.

And the bloodshed in Iraq takes a new toll. Tonight a startling new estimate of casualties. And word that the Pentagon is plank for perhaps four more years of fighting. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's begin tonight with the breaking news that we're following in New York. A terrifying plane disaster and a local sports figure's personal tragedy. Just a short while ago, the New York Yankees confirmed that team pitcher Cory Lidle was killed when his plane crashed in a high rise apartment building on Manhattan's East Side. It happened several hours ago in a blast of fire and smoke.

Authorities say a second person onboard on the plane, a flight instructor also was killed. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says no one in the building appears to have been hurt but according to firefighters five other people suffered injuries.

A formal investigation now under way. Federal and state authorities said early on, they believe this was an accident and not an act of terror. Witness on the ground at first weren't so sure.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A helicopter hit the building.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a helicopter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, they're saying it's a plane. Did you see it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I didn't see it. I work in that building. They evacuated everyone out. The debris was still coming down when we came out of the building.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was it like when you came out of the building?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chaos. It was so scared. Let me tell you I was so scared that I thought it was another terrorist attack.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I saw an airplane banking fairly steeply, and I said to myself, that's very odd for a light plane like that, to maneuvering so close to the ground doing what looked like aerobatics to me. Suddenly, I saw it hit the building, a huge ball of fire then came out of the building.


BLITZER: Our reporters are tracking all the developments of this story. CNN's Brian Todd has the latest on the investigation. CNN's Mary Snow is at the scene of the crash. But let's begin with CNN's Jason Carroll. He has confirmation that a New York Yankees pitcher is now confirmed dead. Jason?

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And Wolf, that confirmation comes from New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, he released a statement just a short while ago, calling the incident a terrible and shocking tragedy. He offered also his condolences to Cory Lidle's wife and son.


CARROLL (voice-over): Cory Lidle was a major league pitcher for nine years. He was new to the New York Yankees. Traded just two months ago from the Philadelphia Phillies. Playing ball wasn't Lidle's only passion. So was flying.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was adamant about the in fact he was going to do it not only well and safely. And he was very proud of the way he had handled himself in that process. And was very proud of the way he had handled himself in flying a plane.

CARROLL: Lidle earned his pilot's license last February and bought a four seat, single engine aircraft, a Cirrus SR 20. He had logged 400 hours of flight time and recently told the "New York Times" how safe he felt in the air saying quote, "The whole plane has a parachute on it. Ninety nine percent of pilots that go up never have engine failure and the one percent that do usually land it."

Lidle's flight instructor, Tyler Stranger (ph) said he was the best student he ever had. Lidle, 34 years old, was from Hollywood, California, he was married and had a six--year-old son, Christopher.

(END VIDEOTAPE) CARROLL (on camera): And Lidle's teammate, New York Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi also gave CNN a statement. Giambi knew Lidle for 18 years. They even played baseball together in high school. Giambi says he was devastated when he heard the news of what happened.


BLITZER: And they're not saying yet, Jason, the other person who was on that plane and was killed. They are not providing a name to us yet. Is that right?

CARROLL: Not at this time. No confirmation of who that other person was onboard, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Jason, thank you very much. More than 100 firefighters rushed to the scene of this crash. Major Michael Bloomberg says the emergency response was massive quick and coordinated.

Let's bring in CNN's Mary Snow, she's at the scene right now with more on how this accident played out. Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the mayor of New York City held a press briefing about an hour and a half ago. Didn't name the victims in this crash. But what investigators are looking at 13 minutes between the time that the plane took off in nearby Teterboro, New Jersey and at 2:40 p.m. this afternoon, when New York City police department got a 911 call.

The mayor said about this plane, it was a sight seeing trip. It had taken off from New Jersey, circled the Statue of Liberty. And that air traffic control lost on the radar at around 59th street.

Now I'm going to show you where it happened. We're going to pan up to this apartment building. On 72nd Street and where the crash happened was at 30th and 31st floors. The mayor says there were two people, a man and a woman on a nearby floor, that part of the plane actually went into their apartment. But they were able to get out of their apartment. They were shaken, he said, but not seriously injured. Part of the plane obviously wnet into the apartment house and part of it went into on the street below.

Obviously you have been talking about it being very sensitive here in New York. The major says obviously the first thought was whether or not it was terrorism. There were no signs, he said, that it was.


MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, (R), NEW YORK CITY: In this day and age, obviously everybody's very sensitive when they hear something like a plane crashing into a building. Homeland security, the NYPD and everybody else involved sees absolutely no evidence of anything relating to terrorism or anything else.


SNOW: And Wolf, the mayor said there were about 11 firefighters who were treated for injuries here in New York. Wolf?

BLITZER: Mary, thanks. We'll get back to you. Mary Snow reporting.

CNN has obtained pictures of the wreckage from freelance photographer Rick Dembow of the New York news media. In one picture, what appears to be part of the plane is seen lying on the ground, in another large pieces of debris are seen littered across the building.

Our Brian Todd's monitoring the investigation which has now formally started. Brian is joining us now with more on this part of the story. Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, sources familiar with the investigation, tell CNN there was a mayday call from the plane and there may have been a fuel problem. Now just a short time ago an official with the National Transportation Safety Board would not confirm that information.

But the NTSB does have a go team on the way to New York as we speak. We were there a short time ago when the team arrived at Hangar Six at Reagan National Airport outside Washington. I spoke with two top former NTSB investigators who say that that team's first task will be to meet with other agency personnel on the ground in Manhattan, also to make sure that the debris from what they call the evidence field not altered in any way. What's next? Well, here's what a member of this particular team said they're going to look for.


DEBORAH HERSMAN, NTSB BOARD MEMBER: They're going to be looking at power plants. Systems, structures. Operations, we'll be gathering maintenance records. We'll be working with the FAA to get air traffic control information. Radar data. We conduct very comprehensive investigations. We will be looking at all of the factors and it's a facts gathering exercise.


TODD: Veteran investigators tell CNN that much of that information will come from crucial interviews that will begin tonight. The team will speak to air traffic controllers, staff at New Jersey's Teterboro Airport who fueled and serviced that plane, instructors, the plane's manufacturer and later, family members and friends of the pilot to get health information and determine emotional issues. Now our experts say flight data collection may be limited so debris from this plane is very, very crucial.

BLITZER: And there are no apparent black boxes, right?

TODD: That's what we were told initially that there are no cockpit voice recorders or flight data recorders, Wolf and that's why the debris is so crucial. Our experts say that they are going to be looking at the engine, the remnants of the engine are going to be very important to look at to find out if the engine was actually running at the time of the crash or whether it had stopped running before the crash. They say the position of the propeller will be able to tell them that information.

Also what one experts called the four points on of the plane, nose, tail and the wing tips if those are close together, they know that this plane probably came apart on impact.

BLITZER: Brian, thanks very much. Brian Todd reporting.

Let's go to New York and Jack Cafferty joining us now with "The Cafferty File." Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: There's some other news out there, Wolf. The United States is a country roughly of 300 million people and so far we've lost 2,752 U.S. soldiers in the war in Iraq.

Iraq's a country of about million people. So far, according to a joint survey that was done by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Johns Hopkins University that tiny country of Iraq has lost almost 655,000 people because of the war.

According to their survey, since March of 2003, when the United States invaded, 2.5 percent of Iraq's population has died above and beyond what would have occurred naturally had there been no war. It's not unusual for wars to cause a high death toll among civilians. In Vietnam, 3 million died. And the Congo armed conflict has caused the death of 3.8 million civilians.

The worse news in Iraq, is the number of persons dying there has continued to go up every year since March of 2003. Four weeks before the midterm elections, as you might imagine, this was not a report that President Bush was eager to see. At his news conference today when he was asked about it he said, quote, "The methodology is pretty well discredited." Unquote.

Really? The MIT/Johns Hopkins report will be published in the British medical journal, the "Lancet." Here's the question, who do you believe when it comes to the death toll of Iraqi civilians, MIT and Johns Hopkins or the Bush administration. E-mail your thoughts to or go to file. That, Wolf, is a staggering number of deaths.

BLITZER: It's a lot more than anyone thought was the case and the Bush administration, the Iraqi government saying it's way, way too high. We'll see what our viewers think right now. Jack, thanks very much. We'll come back to you soon.

Coming up -- Cory Lidle's love of flying in his own words. We're going to show you the videotape. His happier days in the air captured in a video that's just coming in to CNN right now. You're going to want to see this.

Plus who was Cory Lidle. I'll talk to a "Sports Illustrated" writer about the player and the man. This is a very sad story.

And later -- more on what was Jack was just talking about. That astounding estimate of war dead in Iraq and new indications that U.S. troops may be for a really long haul. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Welcome back. Let's get some more now on our top story, the breaking news, the crash of a small plane into a New York City high rise that's killed New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle and one other person, identity still not known.

Officials say Lidle owned the small plane and he was said to have been passionate about flying. That's a sentiment he expressed that in an interview back in April of this year. You're about see pictures of Lidle flying a different model of small plane, not the one that crashed today. You're going to see Lidle, take off, fly past Philadelphia and then land. These are eerie pictures considering what transpired today. Take a look though, and listen to Cory Lidle in his own words.


CORY LIDLE, DECEASED NEW YORK YANKEE: Make sure the fuel is full in each tank.

Jump in.


As you can see, we're second in line.

On the takeoff, we're going to get up to about 55, 60 knots and then start pulling back. Nice and slow.

We're not going to get too high today. We're going to try stay under 1,500 so when we go over towards the city, we won't be in Philadelphia's air space.

Right now, we're heading right towards Pine Valley.

Here's Pine Valley. World's best golf course right there. That's sweet. I played that course about two weeks ago.

It's a good feeling no matter what's going on, on the ground in your life, you can go up in the air and everything's gone. You don't think about baseball, you don't think about anything, it's just -- you know, something that takes you away from everyday life.

I love being in plane and looking down at the seeing the traffic on the freeway.

I found out that I love it. One thing I'm not going to do is beg anyone to go with me. If they don't want to go, if they're scared or they don't trust me, that's fine. It's not going to hurt my feelings. But I love it. I'm going to continue to do it.

I wish we could go over by the field. That would be cool. I don't want to get my license taken away, though. This is the first time that I have actually flown over the city. It can put things into perspective. It's hard to, unless it's stadium, it's really hard pick out landmarks from the air.

It's almost like you're 16 getting your license, you can go to mall whenever you wanted. This is pretty much that same feeling. Maybe, times 100 because you go just about anywhere you want. And just, you know, to be up in the air, looking down at everything on the ground is a pretty cool feeling.

There's the airport right there. Crosby (ph) Cessna Six Charlie Alpha. On final. And we're down.

Stick the landing, walk away and it's a good day.


BLITZER: Eerie. In his own words Cory Lidle flying a small plane. A similar plane, not the exact model that crashed today in New York City. But a small plane, very, very eerie. Let's get some analysis now. We're joined by two top former officials of the NTSB, the National Transportation Safety Board.

Bob Francis and Ben Berman. Guys, thanks very much for coming. He seemed so comfortable, Bob, as we saw that video and he clearly was passionate and loved what he was doing.

BOB FRANCIS, FORMER NTSB INVESTIGATOR: I think I agree with you. I think he was really comfortable with what he was doing there, flying the airplane. And that's nice to see.

BLITZER: Because, the comparison he felt like a kid who was turning 16, and could finally get a driver's license. All of us remember that experience.

BEN BERMAN, FORMER NTSB INVESTIGATOR: Well, I can tell he loved flying very much. And I have been a pilot for 34 years. I share his passion as many pilots do. So I understand what he was saying and showing everybody with that video.

BLITZER: Walk us through a little bit now. What's going to happen? The NTSB will take charge of this crash investigation.

FRANCIS: They have taken charge. Two of their regional people up there, the team from Washington's on the way. Tonight, they'll have a meeting and organize themselves ...

BLITZER: This will take months, though.

FRANCIS: Before the final report comes out, it will take probably a year.

BLITZER: Can we draw any initial conclusions based on the very sketchy information that we have only hours after this crash.

FRANCIS: I don't think, Wolf, it's responsible to be speculating at this point. You can say there are a number of things that may or may not have happened. They could have lost an engine, they could have had a medical problem, et cetera, et cetera, they could have lost a control cable, or something like that.

But, you really -- it's not particularly constructive, because what you need is the factual evidence from the scene and from air traffic control.

BLITZER: I want to bring Miles O'Brien in. He is our CNN anchor in New York. Himself, a pilot. You're very familiar with this small single-engine plane, Miles. I have been getting some information, conflicting information, what kind of track record it has in terms of safety, this Cirrus SR 20. What do you know about this plane?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, it's a relatively new airplane. And I think, Wolf, it is safe to say the jury is out on its safety. It has quickly become the leading selling single-engine small airplane in the country. Surpassing Cessna.

And this is over a very short time period, they have only been around within the past six, seven years. So it's a plane which has a tremendous number of safety improvements to it. Including, it's all graphite, design. It's a very composite design, that is, which is a very smooth airfoil.

It has a glass cockpit like you would see in a big airliner. It has collision avoidance system. It has weather reporting capability. It has a tremendous array of devices in it to give you situational awareness. Plus, it has this parachute which I have been telling you about, which if, if with worst comes to worst, you can pull this lever and the parachute pops out and the plane and its occupants come down on the ground, in theory, safely.

The concern is, that all of these -- this layer of safety that's put around a pilot could give pilots who might otherwise might not have a tremendous amount of experience a false sense of security in the airplane. That's where the jury is out on this aircraft. Are pilots getting themselves over their head because they feel they have an airplane that has so much capacity for safety up to and including the parachute that they make decisions that they wouldn't make if they didn't have all those gadgets.

BLITZER: We're going to have more on this. I want all of you to stand by. Also coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Cory Lidle, husband, father and Major League pitcher. "Sports Illustrated" reporter Tom Verducci. He is going to join us also to talk about how Major League Baseball is taking the tragic news about Cory Lidle's death.

Also coming up, a sudden loss of altitude, then the plane vanishes. We're going to show you computer technology that may have captured the final moments before the plane hit that high rise in New York City. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Video and images from the plane crash into that high rise apartment building on Manhattan's Upper East Side are pouring into CNN right now. Our Internet reporter Jacki Schechner is standing by with some of them. Jacki?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're getting plenty of firsthand eyewitness accounts coming in through CNN's new I Report system. The first video I am showing you here comes from Sourabh Banerjee who lives on Roosevelt Island which is on the East River between Manhattan and Queens, he said he was in his study when he heard a loud explosion, he saw the smoke and grabbed his video camera. There you can see the smoke and the fire. You can see how that plays out. That was what he was seeing from across the river.

We're also getting some images coming into CNN, the first image I'm showing you comes from Dean Collins, who lives across the street on 72nd street. He took this out of the window. You can see in the corner here the fire, that turned out to be the wreckage of the small plane and then another coming from about 10 blocks away, this one coming in, if I could pull that up for you, it's not coming up for you, but we're getting plenty of stuff in the neighborhood, Wolf, people who saw it first hand. And one report from David Rose saying it was an eerily similar feeling for Manhattanites, similar to 9/11 for them until they knew what was going on.

BLITZER: It was very scary, indeed. Jacki, thanks very much.

Just ahead - we'll have more on Yankee pitcher Cory Lidle, killed when his plane crashed into that New York City high rise.

Tom Verducci of "Sports Illustrated" standing by to join us live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Plus we're going to hear from people who witnessed the crash, sharing what they saw and thought in the chaos and confusion. We're back in 60 seconds.


BLITZER: To our viewers you're in THE SITUATION ROOM where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Happening now, a staggering statistic, a survey says almost 655,000 Iraqis have died since the Iraqi War began three and a half years. But that number is being fiercely debated. President Bush says the survey's methodology is discredited and the Iraqi government insists the figure is quote, "exaggerated."

An American spokesman for al Qaeda indicted. Twenty eight year old Adam Gadahn was indicted today on charges of treason and offering material support for terrorism. He appeared in several al Qaeda videos. Gadahn is from California, but in the 1990s he rejected Christianity, embraced Islam and moved to Pakistan.

And North Korea warns that growing U.S. pressure over its reported nuclear test could be considered an act of war. Today, North Korea threatened to conduct more tests with one top North Korean official citing America's, quote, "hostile attitude." I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. BLITZER: One minute people were going about their business in a condominium on Manhattan's Upper East Side. The next minute the buildings shook and people were running for the stairwell. Let's listen to one eyewitness who was inside that building when the plane crashed.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When we look at the window, and I saw the airplane coming towards us. It was me and a couple of workers that were with me at that time. I just stood there. You know, I was just scared.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: How far below you was the aircraft?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like two or three floors below us. The airplane was coming toward us. And I don't know if he really tried to avoid hitting us, or he really wants to hit the building, so what he did is try to make the turn and hit the metal of the building. Not far away from us, it was probably two apartments next to us, like three floors down. It hit the building and what we saw was a big explosion.

COOPER: Did you feel the impact? I mean, you were several floors above.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, actually yes. Yes, the building shakes. It was very scary. So what we did, we just ran to the elevator. We wait there for like two minutes or something like that.

COOPER: How many people were with you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was actually four of us. And you know, when we got on the elevator, we went through each floor, to see if there was more people like in the apartments. And you know, a gentlemen was screaming and we got no answer. So when we got to the 42nd or 43rd floor, all we saw was smoke and fire in the hallway.

COOPER: There was smoke in the hallways of the apartment?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, in the apartment and in the hallways was already fire and smoke. So, I told my friend, I was like, let's go down, let's get out of here. We went all the way down to the first floor, in the lobby of the building was a lot of smoke. And on the street, there was a piece of metal from the airplane. And that was it. It went through the back of the building and just get out of there safe.


BLITZER: That eyewitness speaking with our Anderson Cooper on the scene in New York City.

Before Cory Lidle's Cirrus SR-20 crashed into the Belaire Condominuim Tower in Manhattan, a 50-story building. There's evidence the plane had a sudden and rapid loss of altitude. We're joined once again by CNN's Miles O'Brien. But first, let's go to our meteorologist Rob Marciano. He's going to be able to show us how this plane presumably was tracked in those final moments leading up to the ill-fated descent. Rob?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Wolf, on the Internet, there's a Web site called and it's not quite as sophisticated as say a NORAD radar or a flight controller radar in a control tower. But it takes information from the Port Authority and represents it on one of these maps that you see behind me. And we're going to track what we think is the plane. Now this Web site will tell you, what the information out there, although pretty close, not entirely detailed as they would like it.

But we're going to show you what we think is the plane. Let's go to the full video and we've kind of shadowed what we think is this the plane, which made a turn up the East River, over the 59th Street Bridge. You see it there heading over Roosevelt Island. As it heads north, it does start to make that left turn, that witnesses say happened.

And also of note, there's another plane that gets pretty close to it. At least on this depiction, right now, and then right now you'll see the red plane, or the plane we think crashed, actually fall off the screen and disappear. Again, not as detailed as something that you might find in a air traffic control tower. But the time lines up perfectly to when that plane hit that building. Pretty vivid images right there, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's amazing what they can do with the technology. Mile O'Brien, you yourself are a licensed pilot. You know this plane quite well. You have a similar model, not the exact model, but a similar model. What we just heard from Rob, what does it mean in terms of our viewers out there, what are they to make of this?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, I do know this air space pretty well too, Wolf having flown around New York City quite a bit, especially over the past year. And I can tell you, it's extremely busy air space. And the fact that there was another aircraft nearby, should not come as a surprise.

The question is, was that airplane something that caught the pilots in that Cirrus by surprise? Did they see it at the last minute and were trying to perform some sort of evasive maneuver and that either put them out of control, caused them to stall and spin or just, for whatever reason, veered them toward that building.

Obviously the National Transportation Safety Board will want to talk to the crew onboard that other aircraft, if they've been able to do that. They may already be in the process of doing that. Certainly would like to find out what that crew has to say about what happened.

Was there a near-miss which caused some sort of wild, evasive action? The plane was at the end of that general aviation visual flight rules corridor on the East River, needed to be turning around anyway because it would have straight into LaGuardia air space, right about that point. So combination of a steep turn potentially to avoid that space and then, at the end or beginning, middle of that steep turn, where you have limited visibility in certain directions happening upon an airplane, that could be a very startling thing. You see the airplane, you bank off to get away from it and next thing you know, you're right up against the building.

So it's very narrow airspace, very busy airspace. And while this airplane -- the airplane that I fly and the one that crashed today, has collision avoidance system, the collision avoidance system in a place like that is just screaming at you all the time for traffic, at the point where it comes almost useless information because there's so much around you. And it's constantly telling you traffic, traffic, traffic. It also can be disconcerting on its own right. So that other plane is something we should focus on, not to the exclusion of other possibilities, but something to look at.

BLITZER: Very quickly, if he sees he's in trouble, why not open up that parachute? This plane has a parachute that presumably could help with a soft landing? Some have suggested in middle of Manhattan with all those high-rises, a parachute is not going to do you much good.

O'BRIEN: Well yes, actually it could. It could slow you down, and it could put you in a place. It could put you on top of a building. You might be hanging from a building, but you'd live to tell the harrowing tale.

One thing to count on here to look at, is the relationship between the two pilots in this case. You had an instructor pilot and a lower-time, less experienced pilot. Who was really the pilot in command? Lot of things get really muddy when there's an instructor onboard. Who's actually flying the plane, who makes the final decisions about evasive maneuvers and ultimately maneuvers which might save the airplane.

If there wasn't a clear briefing by the two of them, if something happens, I'm the pilot, I will take command, there could have been confusion over who was doing what. And in a situation like that with very low altitude, very low air speed, a steep bank anyway, there's so little margin for error and so little time to make a decision, it has to be a split-second decision. If each thought the other was going to do something they didn't, that could have been the end of the day for them.

BLITZER: Stand by, Miles. I want to come back to you. Over an hour after the plane slammed into that New York City high rise, we first got word that the plane belonged to the New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle. "Sports Illustrated" senior writer Tom Verducci reported that information for us right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Tom is joining us once again live.

Tom, as we're going to speak, you're seeing these live pictures from the building itself, the Belaire Condominium building. You see firefighters working inside -- these are the units that were clearly destroyed when that small plane crashed into that building. While we look at those pictures, I want you to tell us a little bit about Cory Lidle, the New York Yankees pitcher confirmed dead. A lot of our viewers didn't know this pitcher, didn't know this man. Tell us a little bit about him.

TOM VERDUCCI, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED: Well, Cory was 34-years-old, only played for the Yankees for the last two months. He came in a trade from the Philadelphia Phillies. He played for several organizations, left his mark principle on the Oakland Athletics. In fact in 2002, the Athletics won a franchise record 20 games in the a row. And during that period, Cory Lidle was their very best pitcher.

That was probably the highlight of his career, Cory at his best. You know, he made a reputation as guy not just as someone who was very versatile, who could be a starting pitcher and a relief pitcher, but a guy who always had a smile on his face. You know, there's a saying in baseball that you're only as good as how you treat the little people in baseball, meaning the clubhouse people, the ushers and yes, even media people.

And Cory treated everybody as an equal. He did not think that he was above anybody else, was quick with a laugh, and a joke and a smile for anybody he ran into it. And even though he was a Yankee for only two months, I think he left a strong mark on his teammates as someone who was very likable.

BLITZER: What made him want to become a pilot?

VERDUCCI: You know, that's a good question. I just think it was a passion that Cory had for quite some time. It was really only in the last few years where Cory began to make the money in baseball that allowed him to go out and purchase a plane, go through the pilot training program as he started last off-season. You've got to remember, Cory was a guy who worked his way up to the major leagues through almost a decade of minor league baseball. Things did not come easily for him.

But in the last few years, he did earn a comfortable living pitching as a major league player. And this clearly was his passion, Wolf. He talked about it openly with teammates about how much he loved to fly, his plans for flying beyond getting his license. He was definitely someone with passion.

BLITZER: We're showing, Tom -- we're showing our viewers some of the video that was taken earlier this year of Cory Lidle when he was actually flying that plane, a similar plane, not the exact -- not the one that actually crashed, but a small plane.

And you can see -- and we showed it to our viewers earlier, in his own voice, how excited and passionate he was about simply getting a pilot's license, comparing it to a kid turning 16 and beginning to drive a car.

VERDUCCI: Yes, Cory was a guy who didn't do anything halfway, especially when it came to flying to a plane. When it came to getting in the hours that he needed to get a pilot's license, he wanted to do it as quickly and as intensively as he could.

This was not some just little bit of a hobby for Cory to do on the side. This was something that he dove into 100 percent. Obviously, the hours involved with playing Major League Baseball limited that time, but in the off season and in his off days during the season, this was his number one passion.

BLITZER: Tom, thanks very much. Tom Verducci of "Sports Illustrated," our sister publication, helping us out here on CNN. Cory Lidle, by the way, is the second New York Yankee to die in the crash of a small plane he was piloting. Yankee catcher -- a lot of our viewers are going to remember -- Thurman Munson died August 2nd, 1979 when the plane he owned crashed near the airport in Canton, Ohio.

He was practicing landings in his hometown on an off day during the season. Munson had been a Yankee for nine years, becoming captain and the American League MVP in 1976.

Still ahead tonight in "THE SITUATION ROOM," a stunning new report on the number of people killed in Iraq since the start of the war

Plus, news of plans to maintain current troops level for years to come. We're going to get the latest from the Pentagon.

And President Bush speaks out on Iraq and North Korea. We're going to take you live to the White House, lots more -- a lot more news, that is, coming up. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: More on that plane crash into a highrise building in New York City. That's coming up. But there's other important news we're following, including the violence, apparently spiraling out of control in Iraq. The Pentagon now planning for the possibility that U.S. troops will have to remain at current levels through the year 2010.

That news come one day ahead of a publication of a stunning new report saying the war has resulted in the deaths of almost 655,000 Iraqis.

Our Ed Henry is standing by live at the White House. But let's go the Pentagon. Jamie McIntyre has the latest from there -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the "Human Cost Of War" -- that's the name of a report by private researchers that suggests the number of Iraqis, civilians and otherwise, that have died since the beginning of the war is much higher than anyone previously suspected.


MCINTYRE (voice-over): No one precisely how many Iraqis have died since the U.S. invasion in 2003, but data collected by a team of Iraqi doctors and analyzed by experts at Johns Hopkins University puts the number at a staggering 655,000. That's a big surprise to the top U.S. commander.

GENERAL GEORGE CASEY, COMMANDER, MULTINATIONAL FORCE IN IRAQ: The 650,000 number seems way, way beyond any number that I have seen. I have not seen a number higher than 50,000. And, so, I don't give that much credibility at all.

MCINTYRE: The study, published in the British medical journal "Lancet," is based on a survey of more than 12,000 Iraqis at 47 sites across the country. It found the death rate, which was 5.5 per 1,000 Iraqis before the war, has jumped to 13.3 per 1,000 now.

And, based on that, it projects between 400,000 and 900,000 have died, above what would have been expected, with the most probable total being 655,000.

Critics question if the survey is skewed because the number is so much higher than previous estimates that relied on actual body counts.

MICHAEL O'HANLON, SENIOR FELLOW IN FOREIGN POLICY STUDIES, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Their numbers are about one-tenth the kind of numbers you have gotten in this study. So, even if we were missing a lot of individual bodies, I don't think the numbers are going to grow by a factor of 10. I think the survey methodology is very suspect.

MCINTYRE: The report comes as Army Chief of Staff General Peter Schoomaker confirmed he's drawing up troop rotation plans to maintain the current number of troops in Iraq, roughly 150,000, for at least the next four years, even though Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld argues no one knows how many troops will be needed for how long.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: General Schoomaker and the Army does not set force levels in Iraq. They're not the ones who determine how many will be there and until what year they will be there.


MCINTYRE: That's set by General George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, who insisted again today that he does not need more U.S. troops, even as he admitted that the level of violence is, in his words, "as high as it's been" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jamie, thank you.

President Bush says he is going to keep telling voters that the stakes couldn't be higher for the United States in Iraq.

Let's go to our White House correspondent Ed Henry -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, his party's prospects don't look good in the upcoming midterm elections, especially because of the issue of Iraq, but the president insisted today he believes Republicans will keep control of Congress.


HENRY (voice-over): Just four weeks before the midterm elections, the president became the prognosticator in chief.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think the elections will be decided by security and the economy. This Foley issue bothered a lot of people, including me. But, I think, when they get in that booth, they're going to be thinking about, you know, how best to secure the country from attack and, you know, how best to keep the economy growing.

HENRY: With Republicans struggling to regain their footing after the Mark Foley page scandal, the president tried to reframe the election as a referendum on the war on terror, claiming yet again Iraq is the central front.

BUSH: The stakes are high. As a matter of fact, they couldn't be higher. If we were to abandon that country before the Iraqis can defend their young democracy, the terrorists would take control of Iraq and establish a new safe haven from which to launch new attacks on America.

HENRY: But, with violence escalating and Republicans, like Senator John Warner, charging Iraq is drifting sideways, the president's once mighty edge on national security has dissipated. While acknowledging tough times in Iraq, he implored his party to get tough with Democrats.

BUSH: When you pull out before the job is done, that's cut and run, as far as I'm concerned. And that's cut and run as far as most Americans are concerned. And, so, yes, I'm going to continue to reminding them of their words and their votes.

HENRY: In the wake of North Korea's recent nuclear tests, the president faced a barrage of queries about his vow three years ago to not allow them to obtain a nuclear weapon.

Mr. Bush dodged a question about where the red line with North Korea is now, and tried to shift the blame to the Clinton administration.

BUSH: I appreciate the efforts of previous administrations. It just didn't work.

HENRY: But former Clinton officials note, on their watch, North Korea never produced plutonium.

WENDY SHERMAN, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT ADVISER: During the Bush administration, there has been a 400 percent increase in the amount of plutonium produced. We have gone from one to two nuclear weapons to four, six, eight.


HENRY: Now, the president views that on Iraq, his critics charge that he went it alone and rushed to war. Now, on North Korea, new critics are charging that he should go it alone and rushed to war. Now on North Korea, new critics are charging, he should go alone. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. The president said he's sticking with diplomacy and pushing for tough U.N. sanctions against North Korea -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Ed. Thank you very much.

Still to come tonight here in the SITUATION ROOM, Jack Cafferty wants to know this: who do you believe when it comes to death toll of Iraqi civilians, MIT and Johns Hopkins universities, or the Bush administration. Jack, standing by with your email.

Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's go to Jack in New York. He's got the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: According to a joint survey done by MIT and Johns Hopkins University, Iraq has lost 655,000 people because of the war. The study's going to be published in the British medical journal "Lancet". When President Bush was asked about the report, he called it "discredited," claiming the numbers are much lower.

The question we ask is: "Who do you believe when it comes to the death toll of Iraqi civilians, MIT and Johns Hopkins, or the Bush administration?"

It should be pointed out, by the way, speaking of their methodology, that they claimed to have asked in 80 percent of the interviews they did with Iraqi families to ask them if they could produce a birth certificate, 92 percent of those people did.

Celeste writes from Elkton, Maryland: "Let's see, whom do I believe? The most prestigious medical journal in the world who would flat out reject any report arrived at with questionable methodology or that bumbling rube in the White House? Gee, that's a tough one."

Nanette in Jacksonville, Florida: "Jack, contrary to most of your listeners, I believe the administration. They are accountable for their reporting (unlike you and your network). The educational establishment is a major problem for this country. They lack objectivity, accountability, and responsibility."

Mark writes: "OK, let me get this straight. The guys at MIT and Johns Hopkins are using flawed methodology? Does the President even know what methodology is? I would like to know who exactly has discredited the methodology in question. Last time I heard, the guys that hang out at MIT are pretty good at math and statistics."

Yonathan in Augusta, Georgia: "A prestigious university has much less of a reason to tell CNN ANCHOR: lie than the Bush administration does, especially considering how close we are to the elections." And Mark in Philadelphia: "At this point, I wouldn't trust Bush's credibility against a report from an institution advertised on matchbook covers."

We invite you to tune in Thursday, October the 19th, a week from tomorrow, 7:00. We're going to take a look at what's wrong with our broken government down there in Washington, D.C. See what we can all do about maybe fixing it. We would like your ideas. We invite you to e-mail us at Or you can us your video at And we hope that you'll go next door, ask your neighbors to watch I got to pay my kid's tuition down there at Tulane for one semester.

BLITZER: Next Thursday night we'll all be watching. 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Jack Cafferty has a special, here on CNN.

Good work, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Thank you.

BLITZER: Let's find out what's coming up at the top of the hour. Paula is standing by for that -- Paula.


That's about four and half minutes from now. We're going to continue the breaking news coverage of today's plane crash and fire at a New York high rise. A lot of unanswered questions tonight. Investigators still on the scene, it's not really clear at this moment how many people have actually died. And we have tracked down a number of new eyewitnesses, who can describe to us what they saw.

We also have more on New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle, who was on that plane, is one of the victims of the crash. Even that, Wolf, at this point, is not clear, exactly who was flying the plane when it went in the building. We want you all to please join us at the top of the hour for in-depth updates on all of today's developments, try to answer some of those questions.

BLITZER: Certainly will do that. Thanks very much, Paula.

Still ahead, New York City plane crash, a Yankees pitcher dead. We have some additional images of the plane before today's accident. You're going to want to see it.

Stay with us. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Online we're picking up some new images that may appear -- that appear to be the very same plane involved in today's crash into that high rise apartment building in Manhattan.

Let's bring in our interpret reporter, Jacki Schechner -- Jacki.

SCHECHNER: Wolf, here's what we found. It's a company called Steel Aviation, and they sell aircraft. And on their web site, they feature photographs of a plane that seems to have the same tail number as Cory Lidle's plane, or the one that was registered to Cory Lidle according the NTSB. Now the reason why these images appear online, it seems to be at some point, this plane was for sale. It gives some aircraft information, says it's like new, it's a 2002 Cirrus SR20. The listing price on this used aircraft is $190,000. It gives some photographs of the inside of the plane. There you can see what it would be looking like if you were actually in the plane, looking out. Again, images online of the plane with the same tail number as the one that went down today -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very eerie pictures. Thanks, Jacki.

Let's go to Paula in New York -- Paula.


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