Both the pilot and copilot of a Learjet perished when it crashed about a quarter mile short of Teterboro airport, confirms Carlstadt Mayor Craig Lahullier. Initial reports had listed the deceased as missing before the deaths of the two men were confirmed by Bergen police.
Witnesses reported seeing the plane flying erratically and flipping upside down before crashing into a manufacturing warehouse and another commercial building.
Trans-Pacific Jets, which chartered the plane, confirmed they were the only two passengers and that they had both perished. A spokesman for the charter company said the pilot, from Salt Lake City, Utah, had 15 years of flight experience and the copilot was a four year veteran from Morristown, New Jersey, but he did not name them because their families had not been notified at the time. A spokesman for Bergen County later confirmed Jeffrey Alino, 33, was the copilot of the jet. Alino was a native of Union, New Jersey and public records indicate Alino was a certified commercial airline pilot who was currently residing in Los Angeles.
According to the FAA, the flight departed from Philadelphia International Airport, and the Learjet 35 crashed at around 3:30 p.m. while trying to land at Teterboro Airport, which is only 12 miles outside midtown Manhattan. Authorities who arrived at the scene came upon a fiery wreckage that had engulfed two industrial buildings near a Carlstadt Department of Public Work building. Mayor Lahullier reportedly said the last employee left the building only 15 minutes before the crash. “When we got there, in the middle of the fire… our gate was still locked, which gave us a good indication that he had already left the building,” the Mayor said. The plane was described as disintegrated, and smoke billowed into the sky for hours after the fire was extinguished. When nature of the tragic accident became clear, employees at the two burning warehouses were able to evacuate, authorities said.
Emergency responders worked for over an hour to extinguish the blaze because the winds had allowed it to spread to the adjacent parking lot, which left a smoldering wreckage in its wake.
The plane, registered to A & C Big Sky Aviation in Montana, was built in 1981, said its owner, Chandra Hanson of Billings, Montana. According to her, the plane had flown all across the country and had passed routine maintenance checks in the past year. Trans-Pacific Jets is expected to give her more details on the crash and what may have caused it. The FAA is looking into the crash, and investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were also expected to weigh in with their own investigatory findings.
For the N.J. native Alpino, news quickly reached family and friends who gathered at his childhood home.
Conflicting reports on the whereabouts of the pilots encouraged those in attendance not to speculate, but reports of the severity of the crash also cast resignation among those concerned even before official confirmation. Others took to social media to express their condolences and remember Alino. “I am at a loss for words. Finding out that my cousin was one of the two crew members on the Learjet that crashed in Teterboro,” wrote Janice Snaer of Santa Clarita, California. “We just spoke about planning a cruise together.”
A spokesman for Air traffic controllers said the two pilots did not issue a distress call before the crash.
According to the Aviation Safety Network, this the the 53rd fatal Learjet 35 crash since 1977, but no one on the ground was reported to have been injured.