LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Five employees of an environmental consulting firm died when a small airplane they were traveling in crashed near a Little Rock factory on Wednesday shortly after taking off, authorities said.
The twin-engine plane crashed outside an industrial area in Little Rock, a couple of miles south of the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport, Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Lt. Cody Burk said. The Federal Aviation Administration said five people were on board the plane.
The Beech BE20 had departed the Little Rock airport and was headed to John Glenn Columbus International Airport in Columbus, Ohio, the FAA said.
Burk did not immediately release the names or ages of the people on the plane. The FAA said it and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the crash.
CTEH, an environmental consulting firm based in North Little Rock, said the five people on board the plane — including the pilot — were its employees. A company spokesman said the employees were responding to an explosion at an Ohio metals plant this week that killed one worker and sent more than a dozen to the hospital.
"We are incredibly saddened to report the loss of our Little Rock colleagues," Paul Nony, senior vice president of CTEH, said in a statement released by the company. "We ask everyone to keep the families of those lost and the entire CTEH team in their thoughts and prayers."
The crash occurred as a line of thunderstorms that the National Weather Service said included wind gusts of 40 mph (64 kph) moved through the Little Rock area. Burk said it would be up to investigators to determine if weather was a factor.
Nearby residents said they saw an intense fire from the crash.
Dennis Gordon told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette he was standing on a street nearby the crash when he heard the wind pick up and then an explosion. Gordon told the paper that several smaller explosions followed, and then a huge fire.
"It was just red, then it starts turning black, and there’s this burnt smell," Gordon told the paper.