The pilot of a small plane that crashed onto a highway median last week, killing all five people on board, received clearance to fly higher because of icing conditions but only climbed 900 feet before the plane began to descend, according to government investigators.
The National Transportation Safety Board released a preliminary report late Monday on the Dec. 20 crash that killed New York investment banker Jeffrey Buckalew, his wife, their two children and a colleague.
Buckalew had taken off from Teterboro Airport and was flying to Georgia. Buckalew's father said the family also had planned to fly to Tennessee to visit Corinne Buckalew's family and then back to Charlottesville, Va., where she lived with the children.
The NTSB report draws no conclusions on what caused the crash. A final probable-cause report could take a year or more to complete.
The single-engine turboprop spiraled out of the sky shortly after taking off from Teterboro Airport. The plane's propeller came to rest next to the roadway's northbound lanes, and part of the right wing was found a quarter-mile away in a tree, according to the report. No injuries were reported on the ground.
The report describes how Buckalew radioed to air traffic controllers that he was experiencing icing at 17,000 feet and requested to climb to a higher altitude. The plane rose to 17,900 feet before descending, the NTSB said. Witnesses described the plane spiraling downward; some thought it was performing aerial acrobatics.
Audio recordings available online revealed that numerous pilots in the area around the time of the crash discussed icing issues with controllers, with some pilots saying they had passed out of the icing conditions as they climbed above 17,000 or 18,000 feet.
Buckalew was licensed to fly using instruments and had reported 1,400 hours of total flight experience on his latest certificate application in July, the NTSB report said. The Socata TBM 700 was manufactured in 2005 and had been inspected in late July. The plane had flown a total of about 725 hours at the time of its last logbook entry in mid-November.