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October 19, 2006

When Athletes and Fans Are On The Same Plane

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Written by: JDWC

They say you have a better chance of being struck by lightning or winning the lottery than dying in a plane crash. According to the BBC, the chances of having a single fatality on a flight are 1 in 16 million. You are actually at a greater risk driving to the airport than you are in flight! Statistically, a person would have to fly once a day every day for over 15,000 years to be involved in an aircraft accident.

On Wednesday, October 11, 2006 former Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle died after his plane crashed into a building on New York’s Upper East Side. He is survived by his wife of 9 years, Melanie, and 6-year-old son Christopher. Lidle was 34.

In every aspect of life, when you fall, you must learn to fly again and that’s exactly what New York and the rest of America will do. Lidle was well-liked by his teammates because he was a nice, quiet guy who came to win. He was never an ace on the mound, but he always put everything he had into every start and that earned him a lot of respect around the league. Cory Lidle will be missed by many and mourned by the entire baseball community.

“It reminds me of Thurman Munson’s death,” said Mets reliever Roberto Hernandez, a teammate in Philadelphia. “I remember hearing that when I was a kid. It’s just shocking, and sad.”

Twenty-seven years after the Yankees’ catcher Munson was killed in a plane crash, another accident killed another Yankee. Another flight malfunction led to the demise of another athlete.

Planes are actually the safest means of major transportation in the world and the chances of being injured or killed in a plane crash are almost as slim as Kenny Rogers’ postseason ERA. If these incidents are so rare, why does it seem like it happens more often to athletes?

The most famous athlete to die in a plane crash is Roberto Clemente. A Hall of Fame outfielder with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Clemente died on the way to bringing supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua (incidentally, Clemente is the only player in baseball history to finish his career with exactly 3,000 hits).

College football also has had its fair share of tragic deaths in the air. Famed Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne died in a plane crash in Kansas in 1931. Lidle’s accident occurred nearly 40 years to the day on which sixteen members of the Cal Poly football team were killed in a crash in Ohio. More recently, Nebraska quarterback Brook Berringer died while piloting a plane in 1993, just two days before the NFL Draft.

Whether it is a major sport like football or baseball, or a sport like golf (Tony Lema, 1966; Payne Stewart, 1999) or boxing (Marcel Cerdan, 1949; Rocky Marciano, 1969), plane crashes have affected fans everywhere.

In Europe and South America, where soccer is the sport of choice, fans have had to deal with the deaths of 22 members of the Italian soccer champions, Torino, in 1949, eight members of the English soccer champions, Manchester United, in 1958, and 17 players on the Alianza Peruvian first-division soccer team in 1987.

These athletes are just a few in a long, tragic list. They have all been in the wrong place at the wrong time, but there’s more to it than just bad luck. When athletes die, it generates more publicity than an average person, because so many fans identify with them. Also, as with any celebrity death, the media coverage is tremendous; they cover plane crashes closer than other accidents because they are so rare. This is why it seems like athletes are so often the victims of plane crashes. The fact of the matter is, athletes do not die in this manner more or less often than average people, but the media just devotes more coverage to it.

If we are to pull anything encouraging out of the rubble, we can point to how events like this bring entire communities, and sometimes nations, together in mourning. In the event of Clemente’s death, not only did it pull America together, but it also brought together citizens of Clemente’s home country, Puerto Rico.

Though Lidle’s death may not affect as many people as Clemente’s, it is still just as tragic and will resonate throughout the hearts of baseball fans. It goes without saying that the Yankees and New York City will get back in the air after Lidle’s death, as evidenced by previous events, like Munson’s death, and September 11th. And along with them, the rest of baseball will take off once again.

As we watch the Tigers roar in the World Series, we will keep Lidle in our thoughts and wish his family the best, because when athletes and fans are on the same plane, eventually everything will be just fine.

1. Sports Illustrated
2. Chicago Tribune

About the Author



  1. Jackson Govatos

    great job One of the best Lidle-related articles I’ve read.

  2. cernig

    that is such a daunting intro pic!

  3. JDWC

    comments Jackson — thank you, it took me about a week to put this one together!

    Cernig — I agree, hopefully that will catch the reader’s attention and force them to read the rest of the article!

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