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NJ pilot apparently tried to declare emergency

December 23, 2011 10:32:54 AM PST
The pilot of a small plane that crashed on a highway median in New Jersey, killing all five people aboard, appeared to be in the middle of declaring an emergency when the radio transmission died, according to an audio recording of his exchange with air traffic controllers.

Speaking quickly but not sounding panicked, pilot Jeffrey Buckalew says, "Declaring an ..." and appears to start forming the word "emergency" when he is cut off.

Buckalew's single-engine turboprop spiraled out of the sky shortly after taking off from Teterboro Airport, broke apart and crashed on busy Interstate 287 on Tuesday. No injuries were reported on the ground.

Just before his final transmission, Buckalew confirmed to controllers that the plane was accumulating ice as he ascended, National Transportation Safety Board investigators said this week.

Controllers had warned Buckalew and other pilots about icing occurring up to 17,000 feet.

The NTSB has not speculated about what role icing may have played in the crash, and investigators have not commented on whether Buckalew may have been trying to land at nearby Morristown Municipal Airport.

Several witnesses said the plane appeared to be headed northeast - away from its destination in Georgia - toward the airport before it crashed.

Investigators retrieved maintenance records for the Socata TBM-700 this week. Neither the plane nor Buckalew had any record of enforcement actions or accidents, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Jim Peters said Friday. A preliminary NTSB report on the crash is due next week.

Killed were the 45-year-old Buckalew, an investment banker with Greenhill & Co. in New York; his wife, Corrine; their two children; and colleague Rakesh Chawla, 36.

Buckalew's father, Dr. Vardaman Buckalew, said that his son commuted from New York to Charlottesville, Va., where his wife and children lived, and that the family had planned to travel to Tennessee for a gathering with Corrine Buckalew's family before returning to Charlottesville.

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