WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A small plane lost engine power after takeoff and crashed into a flight-training building at a Kansas airport Thursday, killing four people, injuring five others and igniting a fire that sent up towering plumes of black smoke that could be seen for miles.
Three of the dead were inside a flight simulator in the building at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport when the plane crashed into it, and the fourth was found on the roof and is believed to be the pilot, Wichita Fire Chief Ronald Blackwell said.
Five others were injured in the crash, and one of those was in serious condition at a hospital, Blackwell said. Officials said only one person was on board the plane and that everyone who was in the building had been accounted for. Identities of the victims were not immediately released.
“We understand that this is a very difficult time, especially for folks who have family members who are working out here and they don’t know,” Wichita Fire Marshal Brad Crisp said.
The twin-engine Beechcraft King Air crashed into a building where FlightSafety International trains pilots to fly Cessna planes, company spokesman Steve Phillips said.
The FAA said the pilot reported losing engine power and was trying to return to the airport.
The plane struck the top of the building and ignited a horrific fire, Blackwell said.
The crash was “not an intentional act,” Wichita Police Deputy Chief John Speer said. “We are comfortable in saying this is an aviation accident.”
The crash did not significantly disrupt passenger traffic at the airport.
The crash caused so much structural damage that rescuers were unable to immediately pull victims’ remains from the building. It wasn’t clear Thursday when that would happen, and heavy equipment was being brought to the scene to assist the effort.
One patient remains in serious condition at Via Christi Hospital St. Francis and four others have been treated and released, hospital spokesman Roz Hutchinson said.
In comments late Thursday, National Transportation Safety Board investigator Leah Yeager said the pilot reported a left engine problem soon after takeoff.
Yeager said the plane was “flying low and slow before it entered a left turn,” according to witness reports.
“It continued to turn left and then impacted the (FlightSafety) building,” Yeager said.
Jeff Papacek, 39, of Wichita, said he saw a “giant fireball” as he was heading to work at a Learjet testing facility at the airport. He said he didn’t see the crash because there were buildings in the way.
The aircraft, which was manufactured in 2000, was headed to Mena, Arkansas, for painting and interior refurbishing work with Rose Aircraft Services Inc., according to that company’s CEO, Keith Rose, who offered his condolences to the victims’ families.
Rose provided no further details on the plane or its pilot.
A tail number shows the plane is registered to Beechcraft Corp. Beechcraft spokeswoman Nicole Alexander confirmed in an email that the aircraft was registered to the company but said it was recently sold. She said she couldn’t comment further and referred additional questions to the NTSB.
Located several miles west of downtown, Wichita Mid-Continent is used by private aircraft and served by several national airlines and their regional affiliates. It saw more than 13,000 departures and about 1.4 million passengers last year, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The crash is the latest in a string of incidents at the airport. In December, an avionics technician was arrested and accused of trying to drive a van filled with inert explosives onto the tarmac. In January, an Oklahoma man rammed his pickup truck through a security gate at the airport.