By Shawn Boburg, Hannan Adely, Chris Harris and Rebecca O’Brien The Record (Hackensack N.J.)
MORRIS TOWNSHIP, N.J. — A small plane that took off from Teterboro, N.J., Tuesday morning crashed on Route 287 in Morris Township, killing a family of four and another man.
Witnesses said the sputtering, smoking plane-carrying two executives of a Manhattan investment firm and one of the men’s wife, two children and a dog-appeared to maneuver to avoid a dense residential area before crashing into a swampy highway median.
“He did what he could,” said Sue Bhende, who was sitting on the deck of her home when the plane flew overhead. “The fact he made it onto the median, that’s a miracle for everyone.”
Onboard were two executives of a Manhattan investment firm, Jeffrey F. Buckalew, 45, and Rakesh Chawla, 36, and Buckalew’s wife and children. Flight data shows they were headed to Georgia in a single-engine turboprop.
“The firm is in deep mourning over the tragic and untimely death of two of its esteemed colleagues and members of Jeff’s family,” Greenhill & Co.’s chairman Robert F. Greenhill and Chief Executive Officer Scott Bok said in a statement.
The statement said Buckalew’s wife, Corinne, and two children, Jackson and Meriwether, were on the plane, which was owned by Buckalew, a Manhattan resident, and based out of Teterboro, records show.
The Socata TBM700 aircraft, a single-engine turboprop, was registered to Cool Stream LLC, a corporation formed by Buckalew. It was being piloted on instrument flight rules when air traffic controllers lost contact, officials said.
The flight was headed to Dekalb Peachtree Airport in Atlanta, Ga. and scheduled to arrive at 11:47 a.m. EST. It departed Teterboro at 9 a.m., according to flightaware.com.
The plane was a seven-seat model with a fixed wing. It was powered by a Pratt & Whitney PT6A-64 engine capable of 700 horsepower, according to flightaware statistics.
The crash happened at mile marker 35, according to the New Jersey State Police. Most of the plane’s debris appeared to be largely contained to a center median area about 20 feet wide.
Witnesses described a plane that was in trouble before it crashed. Some said they saw smoke — and at least one said part of the plane disintegrated before the body of the plane plummeted to the ground.
Sanjiv Sharma said he was walking his dog nearby when he saw the low-flying plane shake and twirl. It was traveling west, then made an abrupt turn north, he said.
“It was very low,” Sharma said. “Clearly it was maneuvering to get out of the way. Whoever he was, he was a really good pilot.”
Police had blocked off the area Tuesday afternoon and were combing the area for plane debris. A four to five-foot piece of intact wing lay in a front yard of a house at 112 Springbrook Lane, along with another section of the plane on the roof and other smaller pieces in the yard.
Joyce Simons, who lives at the house, said she was in the kitchen when she heard the thump of something hitting the roof of the house.
“Then the whole house started vibrating” from smaller debris, Simmons said.
Michelle Bellog was in her house, doing dishes, when she heard engine noises, prompting her to look out her dining room window. She said she saw the low-flying plane “engulfed in smoke.” She said it appeared the plane was having engine trouble. Then she heard and saw an explosion, while the plane was in the air, shortly before the body of the aircraft fell near the highway. “Debris began raining down on our neighborhood,” she said.
“It was obvious he was in big trouble,” she said. “I could tell it was going to come down.”
Buckalew was “an experienced pilot whose passion was flying,” the Greenhill statement said. “He and Rakesh were extraordinary professionals who were highly respected by colleagues and clients alike.” Buckalew was in charge of Greenhill’s North American Advisory activities. Chawla was a managing director at the firm who specialized in the financial services sector.