Small Plane Crashes into Manhattan High-Rise

A small aircraft crashes into a residential high-rise building in Manhattan. Mindful of the Sept. 11 attacks, authorities are quick to say the crash appears to be an accident.

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Small Plane Crashes into Manhattan High-Rise

MADELINE BRAND, host:

A small airplane crashed into a 50 story condominium building on Manhattan's Upper East Side earlier today. The New York Police Department says two people are dead. An FBI spokesman told NPR that there is no indication of terrorism. I'm joined now from New York by NPR's Robert Smith and Robert, you are at the scene, 72nd Street near the East River. Describe what you see.

ROBERT SMITH: Well first of all you can't miss the massive police and fire response here. It was just for blocks and blocks around. All you could hear were sirens and smell smoke, and see smoke pouring out of the side of this building.

It's a 50 story apartment building on York and 72nd Street on the Upper East Side. It's a rather pricy little condo tower and it looks out over the East River. What I'm hearing from people here when I arrived is they actually saw debris falling and a fireball come out of the side of the building around the 40th floor. And the FAA is reporting now that it was a small, fixed-wing aircraft that crashed into that floor.

BRAND: Now a plane hitting a building in New York City elicits a certain kind of anxiety, of course. How are people reacting there?

SMITH: Well at first, I mean there was real fear. You could see people running away from the area. When I got here the streets were smoky and people were running in the other direction. And people I stopped to talk to, I mean, they said oh no, not again. You know, it was immediately their first thought. It couldn't not be their first thought.

It's the same way with the emergency response. I mean since 9/11, you know, the fire department, the police department have been gearing up for something like this and it was immediate and a massive response here.

BRAND: And do you have any information about what happened? How this plane apparently veered off course?

SMITH: No, and things were at first sketchy because it was a small plane and it wasn't sort of flying under flight control so it was called under a visual level so there wasn't an air traffic controller controlling the plane.

But we do see is that there is debris on - airplane debris - on the ground in front of the building indicating there might have been some problems before the impact or maybe came off of the impact. But the people I've talked to who sort of glimpsed it. They didn't know at first whether it was a helicopter or a small plane but then it sort of spiraled into the building.

So that's what we're hearing now but we have no indication what might have caused it.

BRAND: Well from the pictures that I've seen on television, at least, it looks like it was a foggy day in New York City.

SMITH: Very low clouds. It's begun to rain quite heavily here, but at the time it wasn't raining. It wasn't windy. Sure, the clouds were low but I wouldn't call it foggy or obscured in any way. Weather may have played a part but it's doubtful. We can still see the tops of all the buildings and that's sort of our indication here that the weather's really bad.

BRAND: And as I said earlier, the New York City Police Department has confirmed two people have died. Any reports of casualties? Other casualties?

SMITH: No, I haven't gotten reports of that yet and it's unclear to me whether those were at least from the plane or from occupants of the apartment building. We haven't heard anything about whether anyone was actually home in the apartments that were impacted directly by the plane. And, you know, I'm standing here next to the banks of ambulances. I haven't seen anyone taken out of the building. I haven't seen anyone sick or injured yet but, like I said, there are ambulances probably on every corner and I can't confirm whether anyone else was injured in this.

BRAND: All right. NPR's Robert Smith in New York. Thank you very much, Robert.

SMITH: You're welcome.

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