HAMILTON TOWNSHIP — Federal authorities have begun their investigation into the cause of Friday’s fatal plane crash.
The National Transportation Safety Board, which is leading the investigation, did not release the identity of the victim Saturday afternoon during a news conference at the crash site.
The plane’s number, N174BK, identified the owner as Anthony C. Kelly, of Sewell, Gloucester County, according to a Federal Aviation Administration database. The NTSB declined to confirm if that was the plane involved in the crash or if the owner was the pilot.
The Kelly family was not at their home Saturday afternoon.
Preliminary work will take between seven and 10 days, NTSB Investigator Todd Gunther said. A determination of probable cause won’t be released for another nine months to a year.
Gunther said the airplane, a Vans RV7A, is an experimental amateur aircraft. However, it was not assembled by the owner. According to the Vans Aircraft website, the 1,600-pound plane can seat two people and is the Oregon-based company’s most popular aircraft.
The plane’s destination is not known yet, he said. The aircraft took off from Cross Keys Airport in Williamstown, Gloucester County.
The crash took place at about 4:51 p.m., Gunther said, with a milelong debris field that started about a mile east of the location. A fire started after the crash, which firefighters extinguished about 250 feet behind a house on Cypress Street off Columbia Road in the Laureldale section of the township.
Laureldale Volunteer Fire Company Chief Chris Tilley said no significant property damage or injuries were reported in the neighborhood.
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Jim Peters said his agency will assist the NTSB, but determining a probable cause will be the responsibility of the latter.
During the course of the investigation, Gunther said the NTSB will study the engine to determine if it was functioning properly, as well as the structure of the plane and the physiology of the pilot.
The plane crashed behind a house on Cypress Street. The owners, Drew and Alice Malfi, were in Florida this week, said their neighbor, Jeneen Spano. She has watched their home and dog while they were away.
“We heard a lot of noise, a lot of commotion,” Spano said Saturday morning of the crash. “It actually sounded like it was going to come through our roof.”
She stepped out her back door, confused and half-convinced that ATV drivers were tearing through trails behind her house.
Then she saw the plane.
“It was above the trees. It was just straight up-and-down, and I watched it go down, and I called 911.
“There was nothing we could do. It was just a big ball of flame.”
The plane crashed behind the Malfi’s pole barn. It quickly set fire to the forest about 50 feet in diameter. Smaller pieces of debris lay elsewhere in the forest.
Spano said she feared a larger fire would engulf her home.
But emergency crews extinguished the fire in just minutes, she said. “Everybody was here so quick.”
The crash site was quiet Saturday morning, except for the crickets, bird song and occasional small airplane passing high above.
Yellow caution tape fluttered in the breeze around the perimeter of the crash and the larger pieces.
The wreck itself was a waist-high tangle of yellow and white debris, half-hidden by forest shadows. It did not resemble any part of an airplane.
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