5 die when small plane crashes on major NJ highway

Associated Press Modified: December 20, 2011 at 8:15 pm •  Published: December 20, 2011
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MORRIS TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) — A small plane heading for Georgia spiraled out of control and crashed Tuesday morning on a major New York-area highway, hitting a wooded median and scattering wreckage across the road. All five people aboard, including two investment bankers, were killed, but no one on the ground was injured.

The pilot had discussed icy conditions with controllers just before the plane went down, but investigators were unsure what role, if any, icing played in the crash.

The New York investment banking firm Greenhill & Co. said two of its managing directors, Jeffrey Buckalew, 45, and Rakesh Chawla, 36, as well as Buckalew's wife and two children, were on the plane, which crashed on Interstate 287. Buckalew was the registered owner of the single-engine plane and had a pilot's license.

Wreckage was scattered over at least a half-mile, with a section found lodged in a tree of a home about a quarter-mile away, near a highway entrance ramp. The crash closed both sides of the busy highway for hours, though several lanes were open again in time for the evening rush hour.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators said the search for wreckage was suspended after dark Tuesday and would be resumed after the Wednesday morning commute to minimize traffic problems.

NTSB officials said they don't believe the plane had a black box, which would have recorded flight data, but they said investigators were searching for other memory devices, including GPS, collision avoidance systems or any device with a recordable chip that might yield more information.

Rockaway Township resident Chris Covello said he saw the plane spin out of control from the car dealership where he works in Morristown, near the site of the crash.

"It was like the plane was doing tricks or something, twirling and flipping," he said. "It started going straight down. I thought any second they were going to pull up. But then the wing came off and they went straight down."

The high-performance Socata TBM-700 turboprop had departed from nearby Teterboro Airport in New Jersey and crashed about 14 minutes into its flight. It was headed for DeKalb Peachtree Airport near Atlanta.

The pilot had a seven-second call with a controller about icing shortly before the crash, NTSB investigator Robert Gretz said.

Gretz said he did not know whether the pilot was reporting icing had occurred or was questioning the location of possible icing conditions. He said he was unaware of any icing on the ground that would have required deicing.

The Federal Aviation Administration said the pilot had requested clearance to a higher altitude shortly before the plane dropped off radar. The NTSB said the plane had climbed to 17,500 feet.

Ice can form on airplanes when temperatures are near freezing and there is visible moisture, such as clouds or rain. The ice adds weight to an aircraft, and rough accumulations known as rime interrupt the flow of air over wings.

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