Pilot Craig MacCallum Issued Mayday Shortly Before Aircraft Went Down

LINDEN, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — A flight instructor has died and a student is in critical condition after their plane crashed near Linden Airport on Friday afternoon.

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Shortly after takeoff, the pilot of the single-engine plane issued a mayday, saying it couldn’t climb. The plane then crashed on train tracks near a former General Motors plant parallel to Routes 1 and 9 west of the airport.

Rescuers on the scene after a small plane crashed in Linden, N.J. on May 31, 2013. (credit: CBS 2)

Rescuers on the scene after a small plane crashed in Linden, N.J. on May 31, 2013. (credit: CBS 2)

“There was a perfectly normal departure. They called to depart on the radio,” Airport Director Paul Dudley told CBS 2’s Derricke Dennis.

Authorities said the plane was on a training exercise with a 58-year-old pilot and an adult student on board the dual-controlled, two-seater known as a “Diamond.”

The pilot was later identified as Craig MacCallum, 58, from Montclair.

One witnesses called 911 to report the takeoff looked to be in trouble, Dennis reported.

“As far as he heard, the airplane engine didn’t sound right,” said Linden Police Capt. James Sarnicki. “The airplane had difficulty gaining altitude.”

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The plane was broken apart in several pieces and debris scattered across the railway after the crash.

Authorities believe MacCallum and his student may have intentionally crashed into the abandoned field to avoid anyone or anything else.

“It’s reflexive as a pilot. You’re trained to look for places to go — this is what you do,” Sarnicki said.

The crash made for some tense moments for a distraught neighbor who was expecting a private plane with a friend to land in Linden at about the same time as the accident.

He later received a phone call saying the deadly crash had no one he knew on board.

“When someone says they’re gonna fly in to see you, and the plane crashes, you’re beside yourself,” D’Justyn Ryan said.

The cause of the crash remained under investigation Friday night.

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