Learjet crashes short of runway, killing 2 crew members

CARLSTADT, N.J. (AP) — A jet trying to land at a small airport near New York City crashed less than a mile from the runway among small warehouses and industrial buildings Monday, killing two crew members and sparking a fire that sent thick, black smoke spewing into the air.

Surveillance video from a nearby business shows the moment of impact and then a huge fireball. A man can be seen running across a parking lot toward the crash site as smoke filled the sky.

Amazingly, no one on the ground was reported injured, police said. Employees at a public works building had left minutes earlier, according to one person who had been on the scene before the crash. Two of the three buildings involved in the crash sustained fire damage.

Police said no passengers were aboard the Learjet 35 when it went down around 3:30 p.m. a quarter-mile (400 meters) from the runway at Teterboro Airport, a small but busy airport that is a favorite landing spot for the rich and famous.

Emergency responders worked for more than an hour to extinguish the blaze, which left a smoldering wreckage of cars in a parking lot. Police said 13 cars were damaged.

The plane was registered in Billings, Montana, to a company called A&C Big Sky Aviation, which has a residential address. The owners of the residence are Daniel and Julane Wells. There was no answer at their residence Monday night.

The airport was closed after the crash. Departing flights resumed in the evening, but no arriving flights were allowed.

Mayor Craig Lahullier said all town employees already had left for the day before the plane crashed next to its Department of Public Works building.

“I tell ya, it’s a miracle,” he said. “Thank God the guys were out of there, that’s all I can say.”

Town spokesman Joe Orlando said pieces of melted engine could be seen in the charred wreckage, along with wheels and part of the fuselage. Witnesses said they heard loud popping noises, apparently from car tires exploding in the heat and flames.

Orlando had left the public works building about 15 minutes before the plane hit. When he returned, he saw the plane’s engines on the ground.

“If this had happened 20 minutes earlier, people would have been at their cars,” he said. “That was the first thing I thought of: ‘I was just right there.’ You could see the fan blades, the landing gear. Car tires were blown off.”

Mark Dykstra, who lives across the street from the crash site, told NJ.com he felt the impact of the crash.

“We were sitting in our building, and we felt the whole building shake,” he said. “We went outside, and there was black smoke. Thick black smoke.”

Steve Case, an entrepreneur and co-founder of AOL who was aboard another plane at the airport waiting to take off, wrote in an Instagram post that the plane appeared to have missed a turn.

A Carlstadt police spokesman said the jet appeared to be listing before it crashed.

The National Weather Service warned of strong winds with gusts up to 45 mph (72 kph) just before the plane went down. The cause of the crash was under investigation.

The jet had flown from Teterboro to Bedford, Massachusetts, early Monday morning. It then flew to Philadelphia later Monday morning before leaving for Teterboro around 3 p.m.

Teterboro, which is owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is the oldest operating airport in the New York City area. It sits in a densely populated residential and industrial area just north of MetLife Stadium, where the NFL’s New York Jets and New York Giants play.

The airport was the scene of a 2005 crash: A corporate jet failed to take off, crossed a busy highway and slammed into a warehouse. There were no fatalities, but more than 20 people suffered injuries. The owners of the charter company — whose clientele over the years included opera singer Luciano Pavarotti, Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards and rap mogul Jay-Z — later were convicted in federal court of skirting safety regulations.

In 2009, a plane taking off from Teterboro crashed into a sightseeing helicopter over the Hudson River, killing all nine people in the two aircrafts. A federal investigation later determined errors by an airport air traffic controller distracted by a personal phone call set the stage for the crash.

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Associated Press writers Bruce Shipkowski and Josh Cornfield in Trenton contributed to this report.