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NTSB: Plane Made "Uncontrolled Descent" Before Crashing Onto 287

The National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration are beginning their investigation of the fatal small plane crash that claimed the lives of five people yesterday. Investment banker Jeffrey Buckalew was flying a single-engine turboprop plane, with his wife Corinne, their young children Jackson and Meriwether and the family dog, plus his business colleague Rakesh Chawla, from Teterboro Airport in NJ to Atlanta when their plane suddenly made an "uncontrolled descent," apparently exploding, and eventually hit part of Interstate 287 in Harding, NJ. A nearby homeowner said to the NY Times, "This plane was very loud because it was so close, and its engines would stop and start. And the pilot was trying to rev it to keep the engines going."

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Meriwether and Jackson Buckalew, from their family's 2011 Christmas card

The Star-Ledger reports, "Within minutes [of takeoff], FAA officials said, there was a brief discussion with ground controllers about icing conditions ahead and an expected climb to a higher altitude. A garbled transmission followed. And then, 14 minutes after takeoff Tuesday morning, the plane dropped off radar... All five aboard the small plane were killed when the aircraft tumbled out of control, broke apart in mid-air, and hurtled to earth, spreading a half-mile-long swath of charred, mangled wreckage and bodies across Interstate 287 and beyond."

A witness told the Post, "It was like the plane was doing tricks or something, twirling and flipping. It started going straight down... I thought any second they were going to pull up. But then the wing came off and they went straight down." NTSB safety investigator Robert Gretz said, "It’s too early to tell if it was mechanical or something the pilot did... This is Day 1 of an investigation that usually lasts six to eight months."

The Socata TBM-700 was owned by Jeffrey Buckalew, who had his pilot license for over a decade. The plane did not have a black box, and investigators are looking for its GPS device. Jeffrey Buckalew was flying to attend a meeting with Chawla—they were both managing directors at Greenhill Co.—in Atlanta, and then Buckalew was going to Charlottesville, Virginia with his family to their home there for the holidays. Chawla was scheduled to fly back to New York from Atlanta on a commercial flight last night.

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From left, Jeffrey Buckalew, Corinne Buckalew and Rakesh Chawla

The Buckalews had lived on the Upper East Side, until Corinne Buckalew and the children moved to Charlottesville this year; a family friend spoke to the Times, "They had wanted to be closer to relatives in North Carolina, Ms. Best said, and provide opportunities for their son, Jackson, 9, to play lacrosse."

Jeffrey Buckalew, who Reuters says "had advised on many of Greenhill's largest deals, including Delta Air Lines' $3.1 billion acquisition of Northwest Airlines and Roche's purchase of Genentech Inc for $46.8 billion.," still lived in their UES apartment, but commuted to Charlottesville,"which they bought in late 2006 for $9.15 million, according to county property records. It is equipped with an indoor horse arena and a 1,900-square-foot 'sport court,' records show," according to the Daily Progress.

Chawla lived in New York and is survived by his wife and three daughters. A former colleague told the Wall Street Journal that when Chawla was promoted, she had a party for him and gave a "sincere toast celebrating all of the countless late night hours he worked to better provide for his family."

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