A Manhattan investment banker and his family were among five people killed in a small plane crash on a busy New Jersey highway Tuesday morning.
The single-engine plane burst into flames after it spiraled to the ground on Route 287 in Morris County just after 10 a.m., according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Authorities confirmed that all five on board — two men, a woman and two children — and a dog were killed in the crash. Surprisingly, police said no other motorists on the major north-south highway were injured.
Their identities had not been released as of press time, pending identification from the medical examiner’s office, but two of the victims are believed to be managing directors of investment banking firm Greenhill & Co., the company said in a statement.
One of the directors, Jeff Buckalew, owns and may have been flying the plane, the company said. His wife, Corinne, and their two children, Jackson and Meriwether, were believed to be on board, as well as Rakesh Chawla, 36, another managing director at Greenhill. The company described Buckalew as “an experienced pilot whose passion was flying.”
Bob Gretz of the National Transportation Safety Board said the plane plummeted to the ground about 14 minutes into the flight, just after the pilot made a reference to icing conditions. The plane’s wreckage was strewn over a half-mile, with a wing hanging in a tree in a nearby resident’s yard and the cockpit and fuselage smashed on the northbound side of the highway.
“We have to get radar data and GPS data and maybe get a better understanding of how the airplane came down,” Gretz said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon. “It’s too early to tell whether it was something mechanical or something the pilot did. We just don’t know.”
The plane is registered to Cool Stream LLC, located in the Upper East Side at Buckalew’s address, and a pilot’s certificate for Buckalew, 45, is issued under the same address. Phone calls to a number listed for the address went unanswered Tuesday.
The plane left Teterboro Airport at about 9:50 a.m. and was heading toward DeKalb-Peachtree Airport in Atlanta. Officials said the pilot lost radio communication with an FAA radar facility shortly before crashing.
Greenhill & Co.’s chairman and CEO said the firm was in “deep mourning” over the tragic accident.
“Jeff was one of the first employees of Greenhill,” Robert Greenhill and Scott Bok said in a joint statement. “He and Rakesh were extraordinary professionals who were highly respected by colleagues and clients alike.”
A doorman at the Buckalew’s apartment building who would not give his name said he felt “ill” when he heard about the family’s death, adding, “We are heartbroken by the situation.”
(With Amanda Dallas)
Follow reporter Marc Beja on Twitter: @marc_beja