A small plane heading from New Jersey to Georgia crashed Tuesday morning on busy Route 287, killing all five people aboard, including a family of four with two children.
Officials said no motorists were injured when the plane went down at about 10 a.m. near Exit 33 in Morris Township, N.J., 14 minutes after takeoff. Some reports said a piece of the aircraft came off before it hit the wooded median, skidded into the roadway and exploded.
Debris was scattered for a half-mile, the National Transportation Safety Board said.
Authorities say the victims were three adults and two children. Investment firm Greenhill & Co. identified the adults as its employees, Rakesh Chawla, 36, and Jeffrey Buckalew, 45, along with Buckalew's wife, Corinne. Also believed to be killed were the Buckalews' children, Jackson and Meriwether, along with their dog.
The family lived in Manhattan.
The plane left Teterboro Airport and was heading to DeKalb Peachtree Airport near Atlanta.
Air traffic recordings indicate the tower warned the pilot, Buckalew, about reports of "moderate" icing on other planes in the area.
"I'll keep you up there. If it gets worse, let me know and (inaudible) sure to take your handoff," air traffic control told him.
"We'll let you know what happens when we get in there and if we can go straight through it. No problem for us," Buckalew answered.
Minutes later, controllers lost radar contact with the aircraft.
The NTSB said there was no preliminary theory as to whether the crash was mechanical, pilot error or some other cause.
"We just don't know," an NTSB official said at a news conference.
The plane did not have a black box or cockpit voice recorder, he said, but should have a GPS that might yield some data if located.
Buckalew was the registered owner of the plane and had a pilot's license.
Witness Shona Sternberg told NBC New York she was driving to work when she looked up and saw the plane coming down.
"I knew that it was in trouble and I knew that it was going to crash," she said. Then, "there was a big explosion and a big black cloud of smoke."
Sternberg said she stopped her car and waited for police and fire to arrive as some other motorists continued on. All that was left of the plane was charred metal on the highway, she said.
The little girl's school said in a statement that it was devastated by the loss of the family. Meriwether Buckalew was a kindergartner at Convent of the Sacred Heart.
"No words can express the heartbreak we all feel in losing one of our beloved families," the school said.
New York City-based Greenhill & Co. said in a statement that Buckalew and Chawla were "extraordinary professionals."
"They will be sorely missed and our sympathies go out to their families and friends," the company said.
By 4 p.m., two northbound lanes and three southbound lanes reopened to traffic. Drivers were advised to expect extensive delays in the area.