MOONACHIE, N.J. (AP) — A plane that crashed near a small airport outside New York City, killing two crew members, didn’t report any problems to air traffic controllers a minute before it nosedived, a federal investigator said Tuesday.
The Learjet crash Monday afternoon in an industrial area near Teterboro Airport caused a fire that damaged two buildings and burned 16 cars in a parking lot. The plane struck a building, but no one on the ground was injured.
Jim Silliman, an investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, said Tuesday it appeared from air traffic control audio tapes that the plane’s approach was going smoothly right before the crash.
“It seemed they were talking to the aircraft while it was on approach and the pilots didn’t give any sense of an extreme situation or identify any problem with the aircraft at the time,” he said.
Silliman said the voice recorder had been recovered and was being shipped to NTSB headquarters. He said the flight wasn’t required to have a data recorder.
He said the wind at the time of the crash “was a concern.” Winds were gusting at more than 30 mph and controllers would have tried to have the plane head into the wind to avoid crosswind.
The plane was listing to the right with its nose down at the time of impact, indicating it was out of control, Silliman added, referring to video that shows the plane crashing into the ground nose-first. “Why it got there is of course the subject of the investigation,” he said.
The crash has dredged up dormant fears among residents who live within yards of where corporate jets take off and land.
The airport sits in a densely populated area just north of MetLife Stadium, home to the NFL’s Jets and Giants, and has been a battleground over the years over the types and number of planes that should be allowed to land there.
Residents of a community of trailer homes that sits across a street from the end of one of Teterboro’s runways are accustomed to the sound of planes taking off and landing.
John Falbo, who has lived in the New Jersey community for four years, said he can even smell the jet fuel as the planes pass by. Planes skirt one side of the development, but helicopters pass right over, he said.
Monday’s crash “hit so close,” Falbo said. “If it had hit here, this place would have gone up like a Roman candle.”
New Jersey lawmakers, most notably former Democratic U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman, have successfully fought off attempts by the Federal Aviation Administration to allow business jets weighing more than 100,000 pounds to use Teterboro. Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez recently wrote a federal budget measure to continue that restriction. 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.
Over the years, air carriers have agreed to a nighttime curfew and a ban on the noisiest planes at the airport. That hasn’t altered the fundamental equation for people who live nearby, said Mark Pfeifle, who also lives across the road from the runway.
Pfeifle said Monday’s crash reminded him of the potential dangers.
“It could have hit us and could have took our homes out,” he said. “A lot of people in here don’t exactly have a lot of money, and it could have done a lot of damage.”
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 thick, black smoke spews into the air.
The two pilots involved in Monday’s deadly crash were employed for about a year by Honolulu-based Trans-Pacific Jets, according to company spokesman Ryan Frost. Frost and Silliman both declined to release their names. Frost said that the captain had more than 15 years of experience and had previously flown the same plane for another company. The other pilot had about three or four years of experience.
He said the two were returning to Teterboro to stay in a hotel after earlier flying from Teterboro to Bedford, Massachusetts, and then onto Philadelphia.
“The captain and the crew were fully trained, highly experienced professionals and it’s a tragedy for the company,” Frost said. “They were very experienced in both that type of aircraft, and actually they flew that particular aircraft quite a bit.”
Associated Press writer Caleb Jones, in Honolulu, Hawaii, contributed to this story.