New York, Dec 21: An Indian managing director of a New York investment banking firm was killed when a small plane carrying him and four other passengers spiralled out of control and crashed on a busy New Jersey highway.
Rakesh Chawla, 36, had worked at investment bank Greenhill & Co.
The other passengers aboard the plane, including another Greenhill Managing Director Jeffrey Buckalew, 45, his wife and their two children, were also killed in the crash yesterday morning.
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Jim Peters said the 2005 Socata single-engine turboprop took off from New Jersey's Teterboro Airport and was headed for DeKalb Peachtree Airport near Atlanta.
Nearly 14 minutes after takeoff, Buckalew, who was an experienced pilot, discussed “icing conditions” with an air-traffic controller, authorities said.
Robert Gretz of the National Transportation Safety Board said at a news briefing the cause of the accident is still being investigated as the aircraft did not have a black box and investigators are searching for a GPS device believed to be on board.
Shortly after the crash was reported, Greenhill released a statement identifying Buckalew and Chawla as passengers aboard the plane.
“The firm is in deep mourning over the tragic and untimely death of two of its esteemed colleagues and members of Jeff's family,” the company's Chairman Robert Greenhill said.
The company also informed the Securities Exchange Commission of Buckalew and Chawla's death.
Chawla had specialised in the financial services sector and had joined the firm in 2003 from The Blackstone Group.
Buckalew was “an experienced pilot whose passion was flying,” the company said.
Both were “extraordinary professionals who were highly respected by colleagues and clients alike. They will be sorely missed and our sympathies go out to their families and friends,” the firm said.
Flying at 17,500 feet, the plane lost radio communication and dropped off the radar.
It then lost control and struck a wooded median highway strip in northern New Jersey, exploding upon impact.
Authorities said wreckage of the plane was scattered over almost a mile and pieces of the plane's wing and tail got stuck in trees.
No cars on the highway were hit by the plane's debris and there were no injuries on the ground.
Witnesses said the plane was “twirling and flipping” before it crashed and they heard a loud noise as it went down.
“It was like the plane was doing tricks or something, twirling and flipping,” the New York Daily News quoted eyewitness Chris Covello as saying.
“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,” Shona Sternberg, who was driving on the highway, said she saw the plane was losing control.
“You see something happening, you know it's going to crash, and you can't do anything,” she said, adding there was a “lot of fire and big, black smoke” and she smelt burnt rubber.