TUPELO, Miss. – Four people died Monday when a small plane crashed shortly after taking off from Tupelo Regional Airport in Mississippi.
The pilot and three passengers all died when the single-engine plane crashed in a wooded area near a sewage pumping station and the Tupelo Buffalo Park & Zoo. No one on the ground was hurt.
"We don't have any survivors," Tupelo Fire Department public information officer Cathy Gault told The Associated Press.
Tupelo city spokeswoman Leesha Faulkner said emergency officials were called to the site about a half-mile north of the airport about 8:30 a.m.
Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Arlene Salac said the pilot reported smoke in the cockpit of the Beechcraft Bonanza before the crash. She said the FAA will investigate and the National Transportation Safety Board will determine the crash's cause. Tupelo Police Chief Bart Aguirre told reporters in an afternoon news conference that officials were awaiting the arrival of federal investigators.
Officials did not immediately release the names of the dead. Lee County Coroner Carolyn Green said the bodies would be taken to the state crime lab in Pearl for autopsies and said DNA might be needed to identify them. The plane was loaded with fuel just after takeoff and burned when it crashed, producing a plume of black smoke.
"There's quite a bit of wreckage. The debris is very broken up," Tupelo Police Chief Bart Aguirre told reporters. "We did find some bodies on the scene."
FlightAware.com shows that a Beechcraft Bonanza plane, registered to a man in Kerrville, Texas, had flown from there to Tupelo on Sunday. It was scheduled to continue to Charlottesville, Virginia, on Monday.
The weather was overcast with a light wind at the time the plane took off.
Laurie Carwile, who works in the gift shop at the Tupelo Buffalo Park & Zoo, said she heard the crash and later saw smoke.
"We actually thought it was thunder," Carwile said. "I was in the gift shop and this man came beating on the door, telling me to open the door. I thought we were being robbed. He was actually trying to tell me the plane had come down and to call 911."
Carwile said no animals were hurt at the park, where buffalo, zebras and camels live, but "they all seem to be on edge a little bit."