BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - A UPS cargo plane crashed near the Birmingham, Ala. airport on Wednesday killing the pilot and co-pilot, officials said.
Toni Herrera-Bast, a spokeswoman for the city's airport authority, said the crash did not affect airport operations, but it knocked down power lines and appeared to topple at least one tree and utility pole. No homes were damaged because the plane landed in an open field about 6 a.m.
People living near the airfield reported seeing flames coming from the aircraft and hearing its engines struggle in the final moments before impact.
"It was on fire before it hit," said Jerome Sanders, who lives directly across from the runway.
Video posted on Twitter from the airport tarmac showed a large fire ball in the distance. Video later showed a piece of the plane's fuselage and a large stretch of blackened ground.
"The plane is in several sections," said Birmingham Mayor William Bell, who was briefed on the situation by the city's fire chief. "There were two to three small explosions, but we think that was related to the aviation fuel."
Chunks of riveted metal that appeared to be from the plane landed in the yard of Cornelius and Barbara Benson, who also live near the crash site.
Barbara Benson said she was awakened by a tremendous boom and "saw a big red flash" through her bedroom window.
As day broke, the two were able to see that the tops of trees around their property had been knocked down and they were missing a piece of their back deck.
Cornelius Benson said planes routinely fly so low over his house that a few years ago, the airport authority sent crews to trim treetops.
The planes come close enough that Barbara Benson has sometimes been able to "to wave at the captains as they pass."
Sharon Wilson, who also lives near the airport, said she was in bed before dawn when she heard what sounded like engines sputtering as the plane went over her house.
James Giles, who lives just off the airport's property, said the plane missed his home by a couple of hundred yards, judging from tree damage and debris. He was at work at the time but said it was clear from the scene that the plane was attempting to land on the north-south runway that is typically used by much smaller aircraft. Large planes such as the A300 typically aim for the bigger east-west runway, he said.
"They were just trying to get to a landing spot, anywhere," he said.
Atlanta-based UPS acknowledged their plane was involved in the crash on Twitter at 7 a.m. Spokesman Jeff Wafford said there were two crew members aboard.
"As we work through this difficult situation, we ask for your patience, and that you keep those involved in your thoughts and prayers," Wafford said.
The FAA told Channel 2 Action News the A300 plane was enroute from Louisville, Ky. to Birmingham.
FAA spokesman Kalhleen Bergen said the scene is about a half-mile north of Runway 18.
The plane was built in 2003 and had logged about 11,000 flight hours over 6,800 flights, Airbus said in a news release.
The A300, Airbus' first plane, began flying in 1972. Airbus quit building them in 2007 after making a total of 816 A300 and A310s. The model was retired from U.S. passenger service in 2009.
Previously, a UPS cargo plane crashed on Sept. 3, 2010, in the United Arab Emirates, just outside Dubai. Both pilots were killed.
Authorities there blamed the crash on its load of between 80,000 to 90,000 lithium batteries, which are sensitive to temperature. Investigators found that a fire on board likely began in the cargo containing the batteries.
Stay with Channel 2 Action News and wsbtv.com for updates on this developing story.