The news has been full of talk about Cory Lidle's crash earlier this week into a Manhattan appartment building. I've examined the VFR sectional charts for New York and I am now convinced that it is technically impossible to conduct a VFR flight without entering the Class B airspace. Therefore, Lidle's flight, for the most part was an illegal operation.
The FARs state that the minimum safe altitude for any aircraft... (b) Over congested areas. Over any congested area of a city, town, or settlement, or over any open air assembly of persons, an altitude of 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2,000 feet of the aircraft.
(c) Over other than congested areas. An altitude of 500 feet above the surface, except over open water or sparsely populated areas. In those cases, the aircraft may not be operated closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure.
Although the FARs do not define the term, "congested area", I think the metropolitan area of New York City would certainly qualify. The VFR corridor that exists over the East River has a Ceiling of 1100'. It is approximately 2000' wide. There are numerouse buildings along the east coast of Manhattan that are well over 600' tall. So, in order to comply with the FARs, I must remain 1000' above the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2000'. This means that I must remain at least 1000' above all of the buildings in Manhattan that dot the banks of the East River. If the tallest building was 100' tall, I would have to fly higher than 1,100' MSL, which puts me squarely in the Class B airspace. If I fly in the VFR corridor, then I'm flying too close to the buildings as per the FARs.
I just don't see how one could fly VFR over the East River legally without entering class B airspace. Lidle never received clearance to enter the Class B space.