A small plane crashed into a busy industrial neighborhood in Carlstadt, New Jersey, while attempting to land at Teterboro Airport on Monday afternoon, killing two pilots on board and creating a large fireball, officials and witnesses said.
The impact of the crash set three buildings, more than a dozen cars and a number of power lines ablaze, Carlstadt Police Chief Tom Berta said. Thick, black smoke was seen rising high above the crash site, and was visible as far away as New York City. Witnesses described a surreal scene of melting cars and exploding tires.
"There's nothing really left of the plane at all - you just see the two engines that are burnt up and stuff," one man told News 4.
Firefighters from multiple departments responded to building fires at United Group, Manhattan Door Company and the Carlstadt Dept. of Public Works, Berta said. There were 13 vehicle fires.
Members of the FAA and NTSB were en route to the scene as part of an ongoing investigation into the cause of the crash. The Bergen County medical examiner was identifying those who died.
The NTSB said it would initiate its investigation into the crash Tuesday. The FAA said it would join them as it continues its probe.
The Learjet 35 twin-jet, which departed from Philadelphia International Airport, was approaching Runway 1 at Teterboro just before 3:30 p.m. when it went down near Kero Road about 1/4 mile from the airport, the FAA said.
Two crew members were killed in the crash, officials said. There were no passengers aboard.
The plane's tail number is N452DA. It was built in 1981 and is registered to A&C Big Sky Aviation in Billings, Montana. It wasn't immediately clear who was operating the plane at the time of the crash, and News 4 wasn't immediately able to reach the company Monday evening.
Among the many factors investigators from the FAA and NTSB will probe is the plane's maintenance records, which is routine in all plane crashes.
Officials said the plane crashed into a parking lot near the buildings that caught fire. One of its wings was lodged into the roof of the Manhattan Door Company.
Surveillance video shows the red plane right before impact. It appears to be nose-down and on its side as it hits.
"Tower, that Learjet just crashed," the pilot of another plane told air traffic controllers moments later.
"Airport's closed! Airport's closed!" an air traffic controller said moments later.
Witnesses said the plane was flying upside down before it crashed into the parking lot, and a Carlstadt Police Dept. spokesman said the plane appeared to be listing to its side before the crash.
Steve Case, an entrepreneur and co-founder of AOL, wrote in an Instagram post that the plane appeared to have missed a turn and crashed a few hundred yards from the airport. He was aboard another plane at the airport at the time.
Meteorologists forecasted strong winds, including gusts up to 45 mph, for northern New Jersey at the time of the crash.
No one on the ground was reported injured, according to officials, but people familiar with the area said if the plane had crashed just 15 minutes earlier dozens of people would have been in the parking lot. The neighborhood is a densely populated residential and industrial area.
One witness said she was working at the Manhattan Door Company when the plane came down right outside her office window.
"Everything was shaking in my building, everything turned black all of the sudden," she said. "It landed in the parking lot and then we heard the explosion."
Another man said he was in the car with his girlfriend when the out-of-control aircraft passed overhead.
"I saw the plane come over, in front of us, completely on its side, flying erratically," he said.
Another witness said people rushed to the wreckage to see if they could help, but "unfortunately it was all engulfed in flames and we could do nothing but stand by and watch — really horrific."
Christopher Pastor said he ran from his car to help but the intensity of the fire kept him back.
"All the fuel got all over," Pastor said. "There's cars that are on fire, a building caught on fire, the poles started getting on fire."
Spokesperson for Boro of Carlstadt Joe Orlando was at the scene as the plane came down. He said explosions were going off, cars were burning and pieces of the plane, including wheels and part of the fuselage, were scattered at the Dept. of Public Works facility near 99 Kero Road.
“Right now they’re trying to put the fires out on the building just next to us... we just keep having little explosions, it’s a crazy situation here,” Orlando said shortly after the crash.
The explosions were the sound of car tires popping due to the heat of the flames, officials later said.
“Parts of the plane are laying in the garage, I can see the engines, part of the fuselage. There’s just melted cars all over the place in our yard,” Orlando said.
The last crash at or near Teterboro Airport was in 2005, and the last deadly crash was in Nov. 1985, according to the Aviation Safety Network, a well regarded database of international flight incidents. Multiple people died in the 1985 crash.