The pilot who died when his small plane plunged into a home in suburban New Jersey on Tuesday has been identified as a renowned cardiologist who had been flying planes for more than four decades.
Michael Schloss, 74, was the lone occupant of his Cessna 414A plane when it went down in Colonia, New Jersey, sparking a fire that engulfed a two-story home and damaged adjacent buildings.
“Today we are grieving the loss of Michael Schloss, loving husband, step-father, brother, friend and physician,” Shane McLaughlin, a spokesperson for the family, says in a statement to PEOPLE. “While our hearts are broken at our own loss, we are thankful there does not appear to be any injury or loss of life to any other person. We are also thankful to the first responders who were quickly on the scene of the accident.”
The Brooklyn-born Schloss had a private clinical practice since 1975 and was the co-clinical director of the NYU Center for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease, as well as an associate professor of medicine at NYU, the statement said.
He had more than 40 years of flying experience under his belt and had flown both single and multi-engine planes. He also enjoyed restoring vintage planes and performing in air shows.
“We will remember Michael for his kind, generous and loving spirit, his wonderful sense of adventure, and his great intellect,” the statement read.
Schloss was flying from Leesburg, Virginia to Linden, New Jersey at the time of the crash in order to attend a medical conference on cardiology and lipidology in New York City.
The Linden Airport, into which Schloss’ family said he had regularly flown for the last 20 years, is about five miles away from Colonia.
The National Transportation Safety Board told PEOPLE on Tuesday that an investigation was underway. Schloss’ family statement indicated that the family would not be commenting further until that investigation had wrapped.
“The family requests that their privacy be respected at a time of profound grief and mourning for the loss of their loved one,” the statement read.
McLaughlin told PEOPLE he’d known Schloss for about nine years, and considered him a “dear friend” and a very confident and “conscientious” pilot.
He said Schloss had just returned from co-piloting a “lovely trip” to Italy with a close friend.
“Michael was a very kind, compassionate, generous, and humble person, given all his extraordinary accomplishments,” said McLaughlin.
Footage from the horrifying scene on Tuesday taken by local Michael Yoyone and shared to Facebook shows massive flames shooting out from the windows on both floors of the impacted home and debris covering the ground in the back of the home, which seemingly exploded on impact.
Yoyone tells PEOPLE he lives about a mile and a half away and was driving home when he came upon the scene.
“I didn’t even know a plane crashed. I thought it was a gas explosion at first,” he says, noting that the plane hit the back of the house and was out of sight. “There were a lot of people out there, but it was very quiet.”
Woodbridge Township Mayor John E. McCormac told PEOPLE that the plane grazed several trees and one house, then went straight down into the another house that was “pretty much instantly destroyed.”
“The fuel and the explosion just destroyed the house instantly,” he said. “Thank God no one was in there.”
The house was owned by Jurek Kmiotek and Teresa Pitera, who had lived there for about 15 years, NJ.com reported. A GoFundMe page has since been arranged to help the family, who had been raising their young daughter in the home.