At 0958:24, the controller directed the pilot to climb and maintain 17,000 ft. and to contact New York Center. While climbing between 12,800 and 12,900 ft., at 116 kt. ground speed, the pilot acknowledged and advised that the aircraft was entering IMC.
At 1002:17, the Center controller advised the pilot that he would be cleared to a higher altitude when ATC could provide it, and that light icing would be encountered at 17,000 ft. The pilot responded, “I can confirm that light icing . . .” and stated that, “. . . light icing has been present for a little while and a higher altitude would be great.” The altitude of the airplane at that time was 16,800 ft. and 101 kt. ground speed.
At 1002:34, the pilot reported, “We're getting a little rattle here. Can we ah get ah higher as soon as possible, please.” The Center controller responded with “stand by” and coordinated for a higher altitude with an adjacent sector controller.
At 1002:59, the Center controller directed the pilot to climb and maintain FL 200 and the pilot acknowledged.
At 1004:08, the airplane reached an altitude of 17,800 ft. before suddenly turning 70 deg. to the left and entering a descent.
At 1004:29, while descending through 17,400 ft., and at 90 kt. ground speed, the pilot transmitted, “and N731CA's declaring . . .” No subsequent radio transmissions were heard from the pilot.Numerous witnesses observed the airplane during the descent and accident sequence. A consistent observation was that the airplane descended at a rapid rate and was trailing smoke. At least five witnesses saw pieces of the airplane separate during flight or they observed the airplane descending without a wing attached.
The final radar return at 1005:17 was observed at an altitude of 2,000 ft., about 600 yd. west of the impact site. The previous return, recorded 9 sec. earlier, indicated 6,200 ft.
The airplane impacted the paved surfaces and a wooded median on Interstate 287, about 1 mi. south of Morristown, N.J. The point of initial impact of the main wreckage was in the southbound lanes. The main wreckage debris field was oriented on a heading of about 070 deg. and was about 350 ft. in length. The propeller assembly separated from the engine during impact and came to rest in a wooded area on the east side of the northbound lanes.A post-crash fire was evident on the highway and in the wooded median, where sections of the fuselage, the left wing and the vertical stabilizer came to rest.
Due to the impact damage and fragmentation of the cockpit, cabin and fuselage, the seating positions of the airplane occupants could not be determined.