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Plane plunges 17,500 feet after pilot discusses icing

December 20, 2011 |  4:12 pm

  

The pilot of a small plane that crashed onto a busy highway Tuesday had spoken with air traffic controllers about icing shortly before the aircraft plunged 17,500 feet to the ground, killing the pilot, his wife and two children, the family dog and the pilot's co-worker.

Miraculously, the plane did not hit any cars on Interstate 287 in suburban New Jersey as it spun to the ground, shedding pieces of its wings and fuselage about 10 a.m. The pilot, Jeffrey Buckalew, owned the plane and had a pilot's license. Also aboard the plane, which was headed to the Atlanta area, were Buckalew's wife, Corinne; their two children, Jackson and Meriwether; Rakesh Chawla, who worked with Buckalew at a New York investment banking firm; and a dog.

The banking firm, Greenhill & Co., described Buckalew and Chawla as managing directors and said Buckalew was "an experienced pilot whose passion was flying."

About 14 minutes after the plane left New Jersey's Teterboro Airport, Buckalew asked air traffic controllers about icing, Robert Gretz of the National Transportation Safety Board told a news briefing. "Icing was the subject of the conversation, but I don't know further details," he said. Gretz refused to say whether ice on the small plane's wings could have caused it to spiral out of control.

Wreckage was strewn for more than half a mile over the suburban area, which is about 45 miles west of New York City. The crash occurred in view of people driving along the heavily traveled highway.

"It was like the plane was doing tricks or something, twirling and flipping," one witness, Chris Covello, told the Associated Press. "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 plane was a French-made Socata TBM-700, which can carry six people. It did not have a black box and was not equipped with a de-icing system.

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-- Tina Susman in New York

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