Plane called for help before Fla. crash

April 17, 2009 11:11:11 AM PDT
A small plane crashed into a house shortly after taking off from Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport Friday morning, slicing the home down the middle into two charred pieces. The plane, believed to be a twin-engine Cessna 421, crashed around 11:20 a.m., and the house burst into flames, authorities said. It wasn't immediately clear whether anyone was inside the home, which is about two miles from the airport. Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said one person was on board the plane, but it wasn't known if that person survived.

"I was on the phone, the phone went dead and there was this loud bang and a lot of black smoke emanating from the area," said Dorothy O'Brien, 83, who lives nearby. "Black, black smoke for at least ten minutes."

Though the fire was under control, authorities were trying to determine how much fuel the plane was carrying and whether the engine had cooled before any search of the plane's wreckage could begin.

"Our main concern right now is fuel load. We want to make sure that is stabilized," Oakland Park Fire-Rescue Chief Donald Widing told CNN.

The plane was headed to Fernandina Beach, just outside Jacksonville, where airport officials expected it to land around 1 p.m. But after takeoff, something went wrong. Shortly after it got into the air, it reported trouble to the tower, and the tower cleared it to turn around and land, said Chaz Adams, an airport spokesman. Before it could, it crashed.

"I said 'Oh my God, that could have been my house.' It was that close," said Bill Slugg, who lives across the street.

FAA records list the plane's owner as Sebring Air Charter in Tamarac, a Fort Lauderdale suburb. A message left at a phone number listed on Florida corporate records for one of the charter company's officers was not immediately returned.

The crash was at least the third involving the airport, which caters to small planes and jets, in the last five years.

A DC-3 cargo plane crashed shortly after takeoff into a residential street near the airport in 2005. The pilot, co-pilot and a passenger all survived. The pilot said at the time they chose the street because it was quiet and wide, and has an abundance of tall palm trees he could run into to slow the plane's speed.

In 2004, a Piper Cherokee crashed into the roof of an auto body shop shortly after takeoff, killing two people on the plane and critically injuring a third.

National Transportation Safety Board records show that Cessna 421s have been involved in 12 fatal accidents since 2004.

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Sandy Kozel in AP's Broadcast News Center contributed to this report.

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