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Federal Investigators Say Icing Factors Unknown In Fatal I-287 Plane Crash

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(credit: CBS 2)

(credit: CBS 2)

HARDING TOWNSHIP, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – Federal investigators resumed searching on Wednesday at the scene of a fiery plane crash that killed five people when their private plane broke apart over I-287 in New Jersey.

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The question of icing was raised on Tuesday as a possible factor in the accident.  However, officials said they are unable to pinpoint how big a factor it really was.

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“How much ice was on the airplane, we do not know and we may never know. The aircraft was in radar contact at the time and continued in radar contact throughout the accident sequence,” NTSB Air Safety Investigator Ralph Hicks said Wednesday.

Hicks did say that the plane was “equipped with a de-ice system” and added that other planes also reported icing conditions on Tuesday.

“We did have at least one air-carrier crew of a commercial air carrier that reported icing conditions in the general time and location as the accident occurred,” he said.

Killed in the crash were Upper East Side investment banker Jeffrey Buckalew, his wife Corrine, their daughter Meriweather and their son Jackson.  Buckalew’s co-worker, Rakesh Chawla, was also on the plane and killed.

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Pieces of the plane were hauled away on flat-bed trucks Wednesday. The single engine Socata TBM-700 turboprop crashed in what investigators called “an uncontrolled decent” around 10 a.m. Tuesday in the median of I-287 in Harding Township.

“It was just engulfed in grey dark grey smoke,” said witness Michelle Bellog. “It was spinning and then it exploded.”

The flaming cabin landed in the middle of the road but miraculously, no drivers were hurt. The plane had just left Teterboro Airport and was heading to suburban Atlanta.

family Federal Investigators Say Icing Factors Unknown In Fatal I 287 Plane Crash

Jeffrey Buckalew, Meriwether & Corinne Buckalew. (credit: Greenhill.com & Facebook)

The NTSB continues to investigate whether icing may have caused the crash. Ice can form even when ground temperatures are above freezing.  Tuesday’s Titan radar shows it was 44 degrees outside the plane as it took off from Teterboro at 10 a.m.

As it climbed above 3,000 feet, the temperature outside fell below freezing.  It continued up to 17,000 feet, where the air was just nine degrees.

In air traffic control tapes released Tuesday, a controller tells the pilot to keep an altitude of  10,000 as he headed southwest over northern New Jersey, warning the pilot about accumulations of ice particles known as rime in the clouds above.

“There are reports of moderate rime,” a controller says. “If it gets worse, let me know and when center takes your handoff I’ll climb you and maybe get you higher.”

“We’ll let you know what happens when we get in there,” the pilot responds. “And, yeah, if we could go straight through it, that’s no problem for us.”

Investigators said the plane did not have a black box, but did have a GPS. Officials were looking for that Wednesday as well as any other devices that could lead to clues as to why the plane went down.

Both Buckalew and Chawla worked at the  investment banking firm Greenhill & Co. Buckalew was the registered owner of the plane and had a pilot’s license.

rakesh chawla Federal Investigators Say Icing Factors Unknown In Fatal I 287 Plane Crash

Rakesh Chawla (credit: Greenhill.com)

They are being remembered as the kind of people who said “hello” to their neighbors and doted on their children.

“They were family people who cared, that loved my dog and held their children,” said neighbor Arthur Yellin. “They were real parents.”

Chawla is survived by his wife and three young daughters.  He was supposed to be home from the business trip with Buckalew at the Atlanta headquarters of Greenhill. Chawla’s parents met briefly with CBS 2 outside their son’s Park Avenue apartment before feeling too distraught to go on.

A dog that was on board the plane also was killed.

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