BUTTE, Mont. — A small private plane carrying children and adults from California to a ski trip in Montana crashed Sunday as it approached the Butte airport, killing 14 to 17 people on board, officials said.
A mechanic at a California airport where the plane had stopped in the morning said about a dozen children were on board. They were about 6 to 10 years old, mechanic Tom Hagler said, "a lot of really cute kids."
Witnesses said the single-engine turboprop nosedived into Holy Cross Cemetery about 500 feet from its destination. The aircraft crashed and burned while attempting to land, said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Mike Fergus.
The aircraft had departed from Oroville, Calif., and the pilot had filed a flight plan showing a destination of Bozeman, about 85 miles southeast of Butte. But the pilot canceled his flight plan at some point and headed for Butte, Fergus said.
The Bozeman airfield is 10 miles south of the Bridger Bowl Ski Area in the Gallatin Mountains.
Martha and Steve Guidoni, who were at a gas station across from the cemetery, told the Montana Standard that the plane "just nosedived into the ground."
The aircraft was described by FAA officials as a N128CM Pilatus PC12, manufactured by Pilatus Aircraft of Switzerland and introduced for civil aviation in the United States in 1994.
The crash is the fourth major plane accident in slightly more than three months.
On Dec. 20, a Continental Airlines plane veered off a runway and slid into a snowy field at Denver International Airport, injuring 37 people. No one was killed. In January, a US Airways jetliner landed in New York's Hudson River after a flock of geese disabled both its engines. All 155 people onboard survived. Last month, a commuter plane fell on a house in a suburb of Buffalo, N.Y., killing all 49 passengers and a man in the home.