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Small Plane Crash on NJ Highway Kills 4 Family Members and Colleague

A fatal small plane crash occurred on Tuesday, December 20, 2011, killing all five passengers aboard.  The plane, headed for DeKalb Peachtree Airport near Atlanta Georgia, took off from Teterboro Airport, located in the Boroughs of Teterboro, Moonachie, and Hasbrouck Heights in Bergen County, New Jersey.   Teterboro Airport services many private aviation charter companies.

The high-performance Socata TBM-700 turboprop seated seven and took off approximately 9:50 a.m.   Fourteen minutes into the flight the plane came spiraling down landing on the wooded median between the north and south bound lanes of Route 287 in Harding Township, NJ.   The aircraft began breaking up mid-air and scattered debris across the road and within a half mile radius, forcing authorities to close Route 287 for several hours. Wreckage was also scattered in surrounding neighborhoods, including on the property of local residents.  Several local residents reported hearing alarming sounds like revving, whistling and an explosion from their homes. Despite the local traffic in the area and close proximity to residences, there were no injuries on the ground.

Although it has not been confirmed, icing may have contributed to this plane crash.  The pilot had a short seven second conversation with controllers at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) radar facility regarding icing conditions shortly before the plane fell off radar and went down.  The plane had climbed to 17,500 feet, and had requested clearance to move to a higher altitude.  The call was not a distress call, but a calm conversation.   It was unclear however if the pilot was inquiring about or reporting icing conditions.   At the time of departure, there was no evidence of ice conditions on the ground that would have required any deicing measures.

The combination of visible moisture (e.g., rain, fog, clouds), and temperatures close to freezing cause ice to form on airplanes.  Rime, the white ice accumulations, adds weight to an aircraft which disrupts the airflow over the plane’s wings causing the plane to lose lift.

The plane was owned and piloted by Manhattan, NY resident, Jeffrey Buckalew, 45, who was an experienced pilot and had a passion for flying.  Jeffrey Buckalew’s wife, Corinne, and their two children, Jackson and Meriwether, and their family dog were on the plane.  A college of Jeffrey Buckalew, Rakish Chawla, 36, was also aboard the aircraft.   Both Jeffrey Buckalew and Rakish Chawla were managing directors with Greenhill & Co., an independent investment bank.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investing the plane crash to determine the cause.  Typically aircraft maintenance records are reviewed as part of any aviation accident investigation.  Depending on the findings, there may be cause for an aviation lawsuit by family members for wrongful death or possibly product defect.

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