Three people were killed Friday afternoon in Broward County after a small airplane crashed soon after taking off from Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport.
The twin-engine turboprop apparently was trying to return to the airport after experiencing problems when it crashed in a fireball in a nearby warehouse parking lot, destroying cars, and even a boat, on the ground. There were no injuries on the ground.
The crash happened near Commercial Boulevard, not far from Interstate 95, right around rush hour.
“I literally just saw the plane fall sideways out of the sky,” Victoria Correa, of Boca Raton, told The Palm Beach Post. She was driving south on I-95 near Oakland Park Boulevard when the plane crashed.
As of Friday evening, the identities of those in the plane is unknown. A spokeswoman with the Federal Aviation Administration said the plane was not registered in Palm Beach County.
The Piper Cheyenne PA-31 departed the airport around 4:30 p.m. and was heading northwest, said Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport spokesman Chaz Adams. At some point after takeoff the aircraft experienced “some type of difficulty” and witnesses reported seeing the plane attempt to circle back to the airport.
The aircraft went down at the intersection of Northwest 53rd Street and Powerline Road in a parking lot behind UK Stone.
Seven cars and a boat caught fire following the crash, but Adams said no one in the parking lot was injured. The warehouse is in a busy industrial area near blocks and blocks of tightly packed warehouses and stores.
“It looks like a junk yard that burned up,” said Matt Little, a spokesman for Fort Lauderdale fire and rescue.
Fire-Rescue Division Chief John San Angelo said the plane hit a tree and a fence as it crashed.
The pilot filed a visual flight plan, a plan that does not require giving destination details to the airport.
Correa said she saw black smoke emerge from the sky. Driving nearby was a police officer who also saw the plane fall.
She said the officer “immediately” turned on his lights and pulled off the highway.
“It was crazy,” she recalled.
Terry Knowles, owner of R.J. Asset Recovery, a repossession lot, said he and another one of his employees were in the 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.”
Rick Blackburn was outside working on a race car when he saw the plane tilting sideways in the air as it rapidly descended down.
“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.
About 40 firefighters responded to 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.
Knowles, the repossession company owner, said six of the destroyed vehicles were repos, while the seventh was his own truck. His boat, mud buggy and camper were also destroyed. Several other vehicles sustained lesser fire damage.
“Luckily it was just a bunch of property damage,” Knowles said. “Things can be replaced. People can’t, unfortunately for the people on the plane.”