Listen: Residents frantically call 911 after plane crashes into NJ home

When a 911 caller told a dispatcher a plane had crashed into a nearby house, she couldn't quite believe her ears


By Rebecca Everett
NJ Advance Media Group

WOODBRIDGE, N.J. — When a 911 caller told a Woodbridge police dispatcher that a plane had crashed into a nearby house around 11 a.m. last Tuesday, it seems she couldn’t quite believe her ears.

“What is it, a house that’s on fire?” the dispatcher asked.

Firefighters work near a home that was struck by an airplane in Woodbridge, N.J. (Nick Johnson/CodeTwoMedia via AP)
Firefighters work near a home that was struck by an airplane in Woodbridge, N.J. (Nick Johnson/CodeTwoMedia via AP)

“A plane crashed into a house,” the caller replied.

“A plane? A plane crashed into the house?” she asked again.

“Yes.”

She repeated the phrase again, this time apparently yelling it to other emergency service personnel in the communication center, according to a recording of the call obtained through a public records request.

The caller’s report was one of 20 different 911 calls the township received in the moments after a Cessna 414A twin-engine plane plunged out of the sky and through the house at 84 Berkley Ave., killing the pilot and igniting a fire that burned several houses.

New York cardiologist Michael Schloss was flying his plane from Leesburg, Virginia to Linden Airport — a trip he’d made dozens of times — when his plane went down four miles short of the airport, according to airport manager and friend Paul Dudley.

Dudley said Schloss flew “exponentially well” and that something big — a mechanical failure, medical issue or very bad weather — must have overwhelmed him to cause the crash.

(Authorities on Monday said an autopsy on Schloss showed he was alive when his plane crashed.)

In the seconds and minutes after the plane plummeted into the house’s basement, some callers described just the house fire, or said they heard and felt a giant boom and explosion but didn’t know what caused it. Others were running towards the blaze, trying to ascertain if anyone was inside the house as it burned.

Asked by a dispatcher whether he knew if anyone was in the plane, one caller said he couldn’t tell because “everything is engulfed in flames.”

The family of three who own 84 Berkley Ave. was not home when their home was destroyed.

A neighbor whose house was seriously damaged was at home and called 911 after getting out.

“My house is on fire. 80 Berkley Avenue in Colonia,” she told the dispatcher.

Another neighbor pleaded for firefighters to hurry, worrying that the flames shooting into the sky from the house behind hers would spread to her yard or home.

“My house is right behind where the explosion is,” she said. “I think there’s three houses on fire... Oh my God in heaven.”

Dudley said last week that Schloss had stopped communicating with air traffic control as he made his approach to Linden Airport, prompting officials to start looking into what had happened to the plane.

The only non-911 call the township provided to NJ Advance Media was from Jeff Brooks, an operations manager with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

“I was calling Linden police and they just told me you did get a report of a plane crash,” he said. He gave the dispatcher the plane’s make and call sign and said he didn’t know how many people were on board.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which is investigating the crash, said later that evening that Schloss was the only one on board and he made no distress calls before crashing. The agency is likely to make public a preliminary report on the crash in about a week or so, the full investigation could take up to two years.

In a statement to 6ABC, his family said they were grateful there was no other loss of life and asked for privacy as they mourn his loss. He was the co-clinical director of the NYU center for Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease, had been in clinical practice since 1975, was a professor, lecturer and consultant in the cardiology field.

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©2019 NJ Advance Media Group, Edison, N.J.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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