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NTSB: Pilot Asked About Icy Conditions Before Deadly Crash on Rt. 287

Firm IDs some of those on board as employees. 5 dead, plus dog. We're continuing to update this story.

Note: We're continuing to provide frequent updates to this story. Check back at this post often.

Latest updates:

  • All lanes of 287 re-opened, recovery process to resume Wednesday.
  • All five people on board, plus dog, die in Route 287 plane crash.
  • Investigation could take months, but initial report should be ready in days.
  • Pilot reportedly spoke about icy conditions, but it's not clear what role those conditions might have played.
  • Two occupants worked for Greenhill and Co. bank. One employee said to have had his children and wife aboard.
  • Video: Plane Was Raining Debris All Over
  • Plane was coming from Teterboro, headed for Georgia.
  • Route 287 closed for most of the day, but some lanes reopened in the afternoon. More lanes could open late at night.
  • Debris spread across a half mile.

It's possible—but far from confirmed—icy conditions played a role in a Tuesday morning plane crash on Route 287 that killed all five people aboard. But investigators are only in the earliest stage of their work, a National Transportation Safety Board representative said.

Speaking at mid-afternoon, Robert Gretz of the NTSB stressed it could take 6 to 12 months before a full report on the crash, which took place near exit 35, is released, and a lot of investigatory work is ahead.

"This is day one of an investigation," he said.

There have been reports that about 14 minutes into the flight, the pilot was in contact with an FAA facility about possible icy conditions, Gretz said. It's not known to what extent, if any, those conditions played a factor.

Contact with the plane was lost soon after, and, according to witnesses, the plane spiraled into the southbound lanes of Route 287 before sliding over to the north side of the road and coming to rest in pieces.

In addition to the five people on board who died, a dog on the plane was killed. No motorists were injured, through Gretz said he's heard reports the plane narrowly missed hitting a truck.

Pilot Jeffrey F. Buckalew and passenger Rakesh Chawla were managing directors of Greenhill and Company, working out of the banking firm's offices in New York, according to the company. Authorities have not confirmed the identities of those killed in the crash, but they have said three adults and two children perished.

"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."

Authorities reported a death toll of between three and five people as the hours passed Tuesday morning. At just after 1:10 p.m., the Morris County Prosecutor's Office said via Twitter that five people had been killed; about an hour later state police clarified that meant there were no survivors.

Gretz said the plane had no "black box," but it did have a GPS tracker that might provide insight into the crash.

He said there have been conflicting reports about whether the plane broke apart in the air or after hitting the ground, but the wreckage was spread over approximately a half-mile. Some of it was reportedly in trees near Morristown-area residences.

Citing the preliminary investigation, Gretz said it seemed parts of the tail section wound up near the residences.

State police spokesman Lt. Stephen Jones was asked by a reporter at the mid-day press conference if the bodies of the deceased were found in the cockpit. But the damage to the plane was so bad, he said, "there's no cockpit to be seen."

"It was definitely a traumatic site," Jones said.

About 100 people from 15 agencies were working either in support roles or to recover the plane and the remains of the victims, he said.

The NTSB expected that while a full report and analysis would take much longer, in 5 to 10 days it would publish preliminary findings on its website.

“The [Greenhill] 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. Buckalew was also a board member of Good Shepherd Services, a youth development, education and family service organization in New York.

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 was closed for most of Tuesday, but shoulders of the road were  reopened intermittently; cars were backed up for miles. Jones said that by mid-afternoon, some lanes had been reopened, but it was unlikely the highway would be open overall until at least 10 p.m. Authorities were advising anyone who could to avoid the area.

The single-engine Socata TBM 700 aircraft had flown out of Teterboro, state police at the Netcong barracks said.

The plane had been headed to DeKalb-Peachtree Airport in Atlanta, Georgia, FAA spokesman Jim Peters said. The plane's registration number is N731ca.

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.

Emergency vehicles from several nearby towns were on hand, and a state police helicopter was descending on the scene shortly after 11 a.m.

Witness reports

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.

Another 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.

Bob Dudek of Pine Brook said he was driving on Route 287 when he saw debris falling off the plane, which was missing a wing. "How it did not make a direct hit on either roadway was a miracle," Dudek said in an email. He said also he saw the plane's engine smoldering in the fast lane of Route 287 North.

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 Wetmore 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.

Bob Angley, who volunteers at the Bargain Box Thrift Shop in Morristown, said he watched the plane spin while smoke poured out of its engine before it disappeared below a tree line, causing a plume of black smoke.

"All that was left for a minute was the trail of brownish white loops of smoke disappearing in the morning gray sky," Angley said.

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, it 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, Rick Burchfield, Stuart Chirls, Jason Koestenblatt, Louis C. Hochman, Steve Johnson and Mike Pignataro contributed to this report.

Gary Englert December 21, 2011 at 05:30 AM
@ Hammer1424 & John P. Senetto: A TBM850 is a sophisticated, turboprop, airplane that costs more than $3 Million new and is certified for flight into known icing. There are de-icing boots on the lead edge of both the wings and empennage and electric/heat system on the prop. It's way to early to reach any conclusions here.
Joanne Smythe December 21, 2011 at 06:23 AM
Here's a photo of the two children, from a recent Christmas card: http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2011/12/5_killed_in_plane_crash_in_mor.html Very sad.
Joanne Smythe December 21, 2011 at 06:28 AM
That plane certainly looks extremely complex for a part-time pilot to handle: http://www.tbm850.com/Avionics
Gary Englert December 21, 2011 at 06:37 AM
@ Joanne Smythe: It is a high performance, complex aircraft, for sure but, within the capabilities of a well trained private pilot...who likely worked his way up to something this sophisticated.
Emily December 21, 2011 at 11:18 AM
Barbara, I guess you never loved and lost a pet. As far as worrying about spelling and a proofreader after reading this article check to see if you have a heart. Compassion is the word for the day.
Pete Sesnick December 21, 2011 at 01:44 PM
John, What is your source for this information? The NTSB has hardly begun its investigation.
Joseph M. Davis December 21, 2011 at 02:09 PM
Does anyone know the flight path of the plane as it approached 287? I know it was coming from Teterboro, i.e, travelling east to west, but I've heard reports that the plane might have flown over an area to the west of Rt. 287, which suggests that the pilot crossed over 287 and then circled back, perhaps in an attempt to land on 287 or maybe heading to Morristown airport?
Louis C. Hochman December 21, 2011 at 03:05 PM
Several people have left condolences here. Inspired by that, we've also created a dedicated post for condolences, memories and well-wishes. It's here: http://patch.com/A-p9KG (Because of the way story-sharing in our system works, that link will take you to the Morris.Patch.com site, even though the post happens to appear on multiple Patches.)
Steven T. Cornella Sr December 21, 2011 at 03:36 PM
First of all my Condolence to both Families , So sad just around the Holiday time .. Prayers for everyone involved , Second ,I believed I herd a another small plane crashed as well yesterday ,killing just 2 People ,and the debris falling on to rt 287 .. Can anyone confirm this rumor ?
Joseph M. Davis December 21, 2011 at 04:24 PM
that would be in the news if it were true
Gary Englert December 21, 2011 at 04:41 PM
@ Joseph M. Davis: Given the aircraft left Teterboro (which is inside the NY Terminal Control Area) and was in touch with Air Traffic Control he likely was assigned a Transponder Code and there would be a radar track of his actual flight path. What's unknown is if he had filed a flight plan and whether or not it was IFR (on instruments) or VFR (visual) flight rules. Given the type airplane and its capability to fly high and fast, I'm guessing he did file an IFR flight plan. What seems somewhat obvious is that there was a rapid descent from +/- 17,000 (but no radio contact?), which might indicate it went into an uncontrolable flat spin. With each revolution, an aircraft can lose 1,000 feet of altitude. If the airplane was ever west of Route 287, I would then rather doubt it was intentional or part of any proscribed flight path. I'm also curious about reports (this far unsubstantiated) that pieces of the plane were coming off while it was still aloft, as this type aircraft has no history of in-flight structural failures.
Monk December 21, 2011 at 05:43 PM
So, your condolences are sincere and authentic. OK. But there is nothing in that for the survivors unless they read the article and comments. Are you going to forward them to the survivors? If not, then my point is made. Now Patch has created a dedicated post for condolences, memories and well-wishes. If Patch will also be informing the survivors of the webpage, then that would be the appropriate place for most of these comments. Otherwise, it's just another place for people to make themselves feel better and do nothing for the survivors.
Nordrom Keni December 21, 2011 at 08:07 PM
So are the humans. Why is it acceptable to "pray" for people but not other animals? You can't fix stupid.
Don December 21, 2011 at 08:30 PM
God knows what happened. A lot can go wrong with any kind of transport, be it car, plane, boat, whatever. I've flown with private pilots and they are typically very safety conscious. Each time they fly, they literally check every single thing themselves that could go wrong. Methodically. When I've done it, I've felt safer flying with private pilots than on commercial carriers. Statistically, in terms of miles, flying somewhere is orders of magnitude safer than driving a car somewhere. The sky can be amazingly beautiful.
Emily December 21, 2011 at 09:52 PM
I really think if your brain was in gear you wouldn't be so insensative. I guess spelling is the only thing you have in your life. So sad. Anyway try to have a great holiday,or Merry X-Mass or Christmas, whichever way you feel is spelled correctly.
John Hahn December 21, 2011 at 10:48 PM
As sad as it is that a family died in a plane crash, I wonder how many families died in a car crash this week. I guess it is the unique nature of a air plane crashing. I chose to pray for those left behind. They are the ones that have to deal with the loss of loved ones. The people who died are at rest.
Anna December 21, 2011 at 11:22 PM
Having had two close family members die in two separate car-related accidents, I know what you mean John.
Joe Salamon December 22, 2011 at 02:26 AM
From the flight track, it looks like the last position reported to NY Center was over Villa Walsh Academy, which is west of I287.
Joseph M. Davis December 22, 2011 at 03:18 AM
Villa Walsh is about a mile and a half west of the crash site, which indicates that the plane crossed 287 traveling westbound from Teterboro and got at least as far as Villa Walsh and then either unintentionally or intentionally turned around and headed back east, perhaps with hopes of landing on 287 or at Morristown airport.
Nordrom Keni December 22, 2011 at 03:51 AM
I live on Old Harter Road in Morris Twp and heard (but did not see) the plane. It seems that it cleared the mountain, flew just about over Old Harter Road and Spring Brook Rd before hitting 287. The strangest part for me is that I heard the loud, sputtering chainsaw sound from the engines which echoed through the small valley in which the golf course is located. But I didn't hear any kind of crash or thud, so I didn't think much of it. Planes often fly low over the area en route to Morristown Airport. But in retrospect, what an awful sound it was. My thoughts are with the friends and families of the victims. The one silver lining: no one on the ground was killed. It would have been so easy for the plane to have hit a house or car(s). 1 hour earlier and almost certainly there would have been multiple cars involved on 287.
Joseph M. Davis December 22, 2011 at 01:55 PM
Likewise, I live in the same area (vicinity of Harter and Mt. Kemble) and at around 10:00 am that morning I heard a low flying aircraft with a loud and abnormal engine sound which reverberated my house.
Hammer1424 December 22, 2011 at 03:16 PM
I dont understand why other media sources are reporting the Pilot HIMSELF was reporting icing conditions - its apparent he was checking if there WERE any icing conditions. How can people be getting this wrong?? ..Reporting and Checking are two entirely different things indeed ! Examples below - http://www.dailyrecord.com/article/20111220/NJNEWS/312200013/Morris-plane-crash http://www.mycentraljersey.com/article/20111220/NJNEWS/312200021/NJ-plane-crash http://www.app.com/article/20111220/NJNEWS10/312200043/Morris-plane-crash http://content.usatoday.com/communities/ondeadline/post/2011/12/pilot-of-small-plane-in-new-jersey-spoke-of-icing-conditions-moments-before-crash/1
Joseph M. Davis December 22, 2011 at 04:06 PM
Perhaps they are making a distinction between icing conditions in the atmosphere and actual ice formation on a plane.
Joseph M. Davis December 22, 2011 at 06:13 PM
this article also states that the pilot confirmed that the plane was picking up ice: http://www.weather.com/outlook/weather-news/news/articles/nj-small-plane-crash_2011-12-21
shaista khan December 23, 2011 at 03:18 AM
Just came to know that one of the victims of the crash turned out to be my close friends cousin,May his soul rest in peace
Hammer1424 December 27, 2011 at 05:50 PM
@ Joseph M. Davis - Here's the audio - No where do you hear "731CA" reporting / confirming ice. Perhaps Icing did bring this plane down but I find it pretty presumptious and borderline fraudulent for news media to turn speculation into fact with regard to their story headline. http://madison.patch.com/articles/audio-the-last-conversation-with-air-traffic-control#video-8761512
Mel December 28, 2011 at 04:50 AM
An aircraft that has ice building up on the leading edge of it's wings should not be flying at 17,000 feet. Ice makes the airplane difficult if not impossible to control. A complex aircraft would have de-icers. I would have to wonder how much experience the pilot had. I was in a similiar situation several years ago in a Twin Commache flying from Boston to Morristown. Luckily for us the pilot had 20 plus years experience and we were able to land at Morristown safely. This reminds me of Robert Kennedy Jr. who with a "new" instrument rating flew to Cape Cod and lost control of the plane and killed himself, his wife and her sister.
Mel December 28, 2011 at 04:57 AM
Money buys lots of things, especially aircraft ratings for weekend "warrior" pilots. Perhaps the FAA should require stricter qualifications or perhaps this was just a sad unfortunate accident.
Pete Sesnick December 28, 2011 at 12:47 PM
You can not make a blanket statement such as "an aircraft that has ice building up on the leading edge of it's wings should not be flying at 17,000 feet." First of all, altitude has almost nothing to do with the situation. If fact, more altitude might prove to be an asset in an icing encounter. Second, whether or not an aircraft can continue to fly in icing conditions depends upon the rate of ice accretion and the equipment available to fight it. (Continued flight in icing conditions, however, is never recommended.) And once again, speculating on the cause of this accident does a disservice to everyone involved. There are any number of possibilities as to the cause of this accident. Let the NTSB do its job. They're the best in the business.
carol December 28, 2011 at 07:30 PM
*ridiculous.

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