FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- A small plane crashed into a parking lot near a South Florida airport Friday afternoon, killing all three people on board and burning about a dozen vehicles. No one on the ground was hurt.
Fire-Rescue Division Chief John San Angelo said the Piper Navajo, a twin-engine turboprop, began experiencing engine trouble shortly after taking off from Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport at about 4:30 p.m.
The plane tried to turn around and make an emergency landing, but it didn't make it back to the airport, he said. The plane hit a tree and a fence as it crashed into a parking lot, part of a busy industrial area near blocks of tightly packed warehouses and stores.
The victims' names weren't immediately available. Seven cars and a boat caught fire.
"It looks like a junkyard that burned up," said Matt Little, a spokesman for Fort Lauderdale fire and rescue.
Terry Knowles, owner of R.J. Asset Recovery, said he and one of his employees were in the repossessed-auto lot when the plane crashed.
"I was working on a car, and I heard the engine behind me. I turned around and saw the plane coming right over the building in front of me," he said.
Knowles said the plane appeared to be banking around to head back to the airport, but it just couldn't get the lift.
"It hit the ground and exploded," Knowles said. "It was an instantaneous fireball."
Knowles said he yelled to check on his employee, who had been on the other side of the lot, and the two opened a gate for the presumed arrival of firefighters.
Rick Blackburn was outside working on a race car when he saw the plane tilting sideways in the air as it rapidly descended down. "It dropped like a rock. Boom!" he said.
"The plane hit really hard. We knew the pilot hadn't survived. It was too intense of an impact," said the 55-year-old Blackburn.
He took video with his phone as flames devoured a row of cars, thick blankets of black smoke billowing out.
"It was a ball of flames," he said.
Blackburn said it was immediately clear to those who ran over to help that "it was over." The heat coming from the blaze was intense, he said.
"There were a lot of explosions going off at first. Pop, pop, pop," he said.
About 40 firefighters were at the scene. San Angelo said smoke and the flames were so heavy that when firefighters first arrived, they couldn't tell where the plane was.
The airport serves smaller planes rather than the larger commercial flights at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
The crash happened at the start of rush hour alongside Interstate 95, the major north-south route along Florida's Atlantic coast.
-- The Associated Press