FORT LAUDERDALE — A small plane crashed into a parking lot near a South Florida airport Friday afternoon, killing all three people onboard 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 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 junk yard that burned up," said Matt Little, a spokesman for Fort Lauderdale Fire-Rescue.
Terry Knowles, owner of R.J. Asset Recovery, said he and another 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."
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.