Three crew members aboard a Boeing 707 tanker loaded with jet fuel escaped with only minor injuries when the aircraft skidded off the runway and exploded into flames at a Southern California Navy base, officials said.

The plane crashed as it was taking off from Naval Base Ventura County Point Mugu at about 5:25 p.m. Wednesday. It slid to a halt within a few hundred feet of the Pacific and burst into flames, with thick black smoke pouring out the shattered wreck.

The plane was operated by Alexandria, Va.-based Omega Aerial Refueling Services, Inc., which contracts with the Navy to provide fleet operations support and fuel transport services, air station spokeswoman Teri Reid said.

All three crew on board were civilian employees. Reid did not have any details on how they were able to escape the inferno.

Omega president W. Stewart Orr declined to comment when reached by phone.

Though a helicopter dumped multiple loads of water on the plane, the wreckage continued to burn for more than three hours.

Firefighters on the ground appeared to be letting the fire burn but were dousing the area around the tanker.

It was not known where the tanker was headed at the time of the crash.

The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration were investigating the cause of the crash.

The Naval base is about 40 miles northwest of Los Angeles.