The turboprop airplane left Teterboro Airport at 9:51 a.m. and was headed for DeKalb-Peachtree Airport near Atlanta, Ga. Only a few minutes after takeoff did the pilot, identified as Jeffrey F. Buckalew, speak with air-traffic controllers about icing, according to Robert Gretz, a senior air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, who spoke to the New York Times. While Buckalew didn't sound distressed, Gretz said, it was still unclear if he was reporting ice on his wings or asking about icy areas.
CBS News reports that Buckalew was told to maintain a 10,000-foot altitude as he headed southwest over northern New Jersey. He was also warned about accumulations of ice particles, known as rime, in the clouds.
There are reports of moderate rime, said one controller. 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, Buckalew responded. And, yeah, if we could go straight through it, that's no problem for us.
Seconds later, another controller told another pilot (not on the Socata TBM-700) about reports of severe icing at 14,000 feet.
CBS News explained how rime could have affected the Socata TBM-700:
Ice can form on airplanes when temperatures are near freezing and there is visible moisture, such as clouds or rain. The ice adds weight to an aircraft, and rough accumulations known as rime interrupt the flow of air over wings. In extreme cases, a plane can lose so much lift that it falls out of the sky.
Minutes after the pilot-air traffic controller dialogue, Buckalew's plane spun out of control, crashed onto the highway and exploded. Buckalew, a 45-year-old investment banker, and Rakesh Chawla, a 36-year-old investment banker, were killed. Buckalew's wife, Corinne, their son, Jackson, and their daughter, Meriwether, also died. Federal Aviation Administration records confirmed that Buckalew was a licensed pilot and owned the Socata TBM-700.
The New York Times reports that the plane disappeared from radar screens at an altitude of 17,500 feet and that the crash occurred approximately 14 minutes after takeoff. The plane first hit the southbound lanes of I-287, crashed through the wooded median and then continued into the northbound lanes. Despite the plane being small, pieces of it were scattered across half a mile, causing all lanes to be closed immediately after, though they were reopened by the evening.
Listen to a recording that NJ.com obtained between Buckalew and an air-traffic controller before the plane crash here.