The plane landed shortly after noon on a road leading to the parking lot of the Rockaway Townsquare mall in Rockaway Township. It ended up in a parking area near the entrance to a J.C. Penney department store.
"It landed somewhere on the outer perimeter road to the mall. It was nowhere close to the building or cars," said mall spokesman Kevin Ryan.
It's the second time a plane has used the parking lot as a runway. In 1996, two people suffered minor injuries when their single-engine plane ran out of fuel and was forced to land there.
The front end of the plane in Tuesday's crash appeared to be damaged after the landing, said J.C. Penney employee Nadia Acevedo.
"It's not crumpled up or anything," she said. "It was like, kind of into the ground, like the nose of the plane was in the ground."
Annmarie Hebbelinck, 40, was back-to-school shopping with her young children when they noticed the plane circling low overhead before coming down for a hard landing.
"We thought it was too low," she said. "We watched it circle; then it crashed into the ground, and we were in shock."
There were no reports of injuries to anyone on the ground. The plane's occupants were a flying instructor and a student who were taken to a hospital as a precaution, local police said.
The plane is registered to Genesis One Inc. in Paramus.
The landing marks the third accident involving small planes in New Jersey this month.
Associated Press writer Beth DeFalco in Trenton contributed to this report.