Medical college administrator, 2 relatives killed in N.J. plane crash
VALHALLA — A doctor and senior associate dean at New York Medical College was among three people killed in a small airplane crash Monday in northern New Jersey.
Dr. Margaret D. Smith, 70, a Manhattan rheumatologist and professor of clinical medicine at the college, was piloting the four-seater plane that crashed and burst into flames at a commercial strip near the Essex County Airport in Fairfield, N.J.
Also killed in the crash were Michael Ferguson, 44, and Theresa Ferguson, 47.
The three were the only people on the single-engine plane, a Cirrus SR22, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
The Fergusons were the son and daughter-in-law of Smith and Dr. Matthew Ferguson, former faculty member at New York Medical College, according to a statement issued by the college.
“The college has lost a gifted educator and esteemed colleague in Dr. Smith, as well as a dear friend. Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to her family and friends, and to her colleagues in Valhalla and in New York City. She will be sorely missed,” the statement said.
Smith was a highly regarded rheumatologist and an expert in arthritis. She had been on the college’s medical faculty since 1994.
She was the internal medicine program director and was responsible for graduate medical education at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Greenwich Village. Smith was instrumental in helping to find placements at other hospitals for residents whose training was interrupted by St. Vincent’s closing, the college said.
It appeared the plane was descending for a landing at the airport in Fairfield just before 5:30 p.m. when the pilot pulled up, Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura said. The plane, which had taken off from upstate New York, crashed moments later just north of the airport on a grassy patch surrounded by businesses and warehouses.
The SR22 features a parachute that can bring the aircraft to a soft landing if there’s an engine failure, but it’s unclear if one was deployed in Monday’s crash.
The flight originated in Plattsburgh, a city next to Lake Champlain, close to the Canadian border. It was unclear what caused it to crash, authorities said. National Transportation Safety Board investigators were on their way to the crash site.
Witnesses said they heard two explosions before the plane crashed. They said the wreckage became a fireball. Only the plane’s tail section remained intact after the crash and the intense fire.
Witness Garfield Smith, who is not related to the pilot, said he and co-workers were inside the Ned Stevens Gutter Cleaning offices when they were startled by a blast outside.
“When the crash hit, you could tell it wasn’t a car,” Smith told Newark’s The Star-Ledger newspaper. “It was much louder than that.”
The workers heard another blast when they went outside, he said. No injuries on the ground were immediately reported.
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