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3 Dead in twin-engine plane crash in Fort Lauderdale: Authorities

7:15 PM, Mar 15, 2013   |    comments
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(NBC MIAMI) -- Three people died when a twin-engine plane crashed in a parking lot in Fort Lauderdale Friday afternoon, authorities said.

The three people who perished had been aboard the small aircraft, Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue spokesman Matt Little said.

Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said the Piper PA31 aircraft left from Runway 08 at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport at about 4:20 p.m. The crash occurred just moments later. Little said firefighters responded at 4:21 p.m.

After the local flight took off, the plane banked to the right before it crashed into parked vehicles near a warehouse at 964 NE 53rd Court, Little said.

"Our guys tell us there are some fatalities here, and it's just a tragedy," Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler said.

The three men who died were flying on an avionics check, meaning that they were checking the airplane's instrumentation and communications systems, airport sources told NBC 6.

The plane took off from a runway facing east. Shortly after takeoff there was a double engine failure, and the pilot attempted to return to the field and land on Runway 31, which faces the north and west, the sources said. The plane then made a steep right turn, stalled, spun and crashed into the parking lot, they said.

The National Transportation Safety Board will make the final determination about what happened.

Whitney Ribak, who was standing in the parking lot of BJ's Wholesale Club nearby, said she heard the surreal sound before impact. She likened it to something "in the movies, when you hear a plane coming down out of the sky with just this high-pitched engine."

"And I live in the neighborhood, so I knew something was wrong. I looked up just as the plane banked and crashed behind the Starlight Lounge on Powerline Road," Ribak said. "It exploded, big black smoke billowing up. I kept hearing other explosions. I was shaking. I was trying to call 911."

Before she could get 911 from her phone, she said, ambulances and sirens were coming from every direction.

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Ebbey Davis was working nearby when the crash occurred.

"I heard the plane fluctuating, and when I looked back up in the air, I saw when the plane was trying to make a turn and the wings were facing up and down, straight up and down, and it went down slanted into the building," he said.

After he heard a loud boom, Davis and a few other people ran over to see what was happening.

"And by that time everything was in flames over there. Some of the cars started exploding a little bit because of the gas and everything," he said.

Firefighters doused flames on numerous vehicles after the crash, as smoke billowed from the site. Eight vehicles, a boat and a camper were destroyed.

A lone propeller was visible in the wreckage, aerial footage showed.

Little said the plane was believed to be based in Fort Lauderdale.

No injuries were reported on the ground.

"The only thing that we can really think that would be the fortunate part of it is, like you said, that no one was in the area when this plane crashed and that it did not strike a building or land on top of a building or in the roadway," Fort Lauderdale Police spokeswoman Detective DeAnna Garcia said.

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