HARDING, N.J. (AP) — Five people died when a small plane headed for Georgia crashed on one of the New York City area’s busiest highways.
Authorities say they were three adults and two children. It wasn’t clear whether they were a family.
Witnesses told the FAA the single-engine appeared to break up as it spiraled into the wooden median strip and exploded on Interstate 287 in Harding, N.J.
FAA spokesman Jim Peters says the plane had taken off from Teterboro Airport and was headed for DeKalb Peachtree Airport near Atlanta.
Peters says there was a garbled transmission from the plane before it dropped off the radar.
•All five people on board die in Route 287 plane crash.
•Two occupants worked for Greenhill and Company bank. One employee said to have had his children aboard.
•Video: Plane Was Raining Debris All Over
•Plane was coming from Teterboro, headed for Georgia.
•Road closed, but shoulders back open.
•Debris spread for miles.
All five people on board a plane that crashed into Route 287 near exit 35 have died, New Jersey State Police said just before 2 p.m. A dog was killed as well.
Two of the people on board the plane—which came down onto the highway around 10 a.m. Tuesday morning—were managing directors of Greenhill and Company, working out of the banking firm’s offices in New York.
The bank identified the employees as Jeffrey F. Buckalew and Rakesh Chawla.
“The plane belonged to Mr. Buckalew, an experienced pilot whose passion was flying,” the bank said in a prepared statement sent to Patch. “We also believe that Mr. Buckalew’s wife, Corinne, and their two children, Jackson and Meriwether, were on the plane.”
At just after 1:10 p.m., the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office said via Twitter that five people had been killed, and state police would soon be able to provide more information; about an hour later state police clarified that meant there were no survivors. Earlier reports put the death toll at three or more.
No motorists were injured. Authorities expect to release more information at a press conference at 3 p.m.
“The firm is in deep mourning over the tragic and untimely death of two of its esteemed colleagues and members of Jeff’s family," Robert F. Greenhill, Chairman and Scott Bok, CEO, said in the statement. "Jeff was one of the first employees of Greenhill. He and Rakesh were extraordinary professionals who were highly respected by colleagues and clients alike. They will be sorely missed and our sympathies go out to their families and friends.”
Buckalew, 45, was Head of Greenhill’s North American Advisory activities, according to the company. Chawla, 36, was a managing director who specialized in the financial services sector. He had joined the firm in 2003 from The Blackstone Group.
Route 287 road has been closed but shoulders of the road have been reopened; cars are backed up for miles. No vehicles were involved in the crash, Trooper Jordan Siegel of the Netcong Barracks said.
The single-engine Socata TMB 700 aircraft had flown out of Teterboro, state police at the Netcong barracks said. FAA spokesman Jim Peters said the plans was in radio contact with an FAA facility in Ronkonkoma shortly before communications were lost, and it disappeared from radar. It’s not yet clear if the communications indicated a problem with the plane.
The plane had been headed to DeKalb-Peachtree Airport in Atlanta, Georgia. The flight number is N731ca.
News 12 had reported two parents and a child were on the plane—apparently the Buckalew family, based on Greenhill’s statement—but Peters said around noon that authorities are still unsure just how many people were on board. The FAA could not independently confirm the state police report of three fatalities.
Names of the fatalities had not been provided by authorities.
Wreckage from the aircraft was visible scattered over several lanes of traffic. News 12 also reported that debris was found at least one exit away, at exit 37.
The television station said the plane skidded onto the median of Route 287 and onto the northbound side of the highway. A wooded area was on fire as well.
A state police helicopter was descending on the scene shortly after 11 a.m. Emergency vehicles from several nearby towns were on hand.
A Morris Township Department of Public Works employee, Mike Flynn, told Patch he’d been picking up leaves with a crew when the crash occurred.
“It came down here and there was smoke everywhere,” he said.
Flynn saw what he said appeared to be a twin engine airplane with one of its engines malfunctioning (authorities later specified it was a one-engine plane). He said it came down right in the middle of Route 287.
John Moran of Morris Township described it as “a split-second of a plane crashing, and then a ball of fire.” Moran said debris was flying all over.
A Morris Township resident, Laurie Kaswiner of Trent Court, said parts of the plane went into her backyard.
She said she heard a noise “that sounded like a chainsaw” while the plane was coming down.
Lauren Strassberg of Cottonwood Road in Morris Township said the noise was so loud, she thought the plane landed on her roof.
Donyo Dougan, who lives on Whetmore Avenue in Morristown, was riding on his bicycle to his parent’s home on Foots Lane. He said the local road had become “a parking lot” because of diverted traffic.
The plane appeared to have crashed violently into the median of the freeway, according to News 12’s report. From the degree to which the aircraft was demolished, did not appear that the pilot had attempted to land or had control of the aircraft, according to the televised report.
An eyewitness named Tracy told the television station she saw the plane in a spiraling nosedive.
“As I got closer to my house, I realized, it’s just right in the back yard of my neighborhood,” she said.
She said her husband had been on Route 287 and saw much of the accident as well.
The most harrowing thing, the witness told News 12, was realizing the crash caused a death or deaths.
“I watched somebody’s last moments of their life,” she said.
Four people from the FAA’s Bergen office were headed to the site mid-day Tuesday, Peters said.
— John Dunphy, Louis C. Hochman, Steve Johnson, Mike Pignataro, Rick Burchfield and Jason Koestenblatt contributed to this report.