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MUMBAI, India – A small private plane crashed Thursday in a busy area of Mumbai, India's financial and entertainment capital, killing five people including one person on the ground, police said. A former aviation minister said the pilot avoided a much higher toll by hitting an open area at a construction site.
The fatalities included the two pilots and two technicians on the aircraft, the Press Trust of India news agency said. Police officer Vishnu Kolekar said one person on the ground was killed and two others were injured. Police earlier said two were killed on the ground.
Police said the 12-seat Beechcraft King Air C90 crashed on a test flight after being repaired and had taken off from Mumbai's Juhu airstrip, which is used by small planes and is some distance from the city's main airport.
They said it plowed into an open area at a construction site for a multistory building in the Ghatkopar district, a crowded area with many residential apartments. Workers at the construction site had left for lunch.
Former Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel, a Mumbai resident, said the pilot prevented many more casualties by avoiding residential buildings.
"Salute to the pilot who showed presence of mind to avoid a big mishap, saving many lives at the cost of her own," he tweeted.
Current Civil Aviation Minister Suresh Prabhu ordered an investigation into the cause of the accident.
New Delhi Television reported that the plane had engine trouble and the pilot had requested an emergency landing at the main Mumbai airport.
The plane was more than 20 years old and had been acquired by the Uttar Pradesh state government in 1995, which sold it in 2014 to a private Mumbai company, UY Aviation, following a crash in 2012, said Surya Pal Gangwar, a state civil aviation official in Lucknow, the state capital. He did not describe details of the crash or the extent of the damage the aircraft suffered.
Television images of Thursday's crash showed pieces of the plane burning on the ground. Eight fire trucks rushed to the crash site. Fire official R. Pawar said the bodies recovered from the wreckage were badly burned. A strong smell of aviation fuel hung over the area.
Surveillance camera video from a nearby building broadcast on NDTV showed the plane hitting a red vehicle in the open area and bursting into a ball of fire.
The wreckage was spread over a 50-meter (50-yard) radius.
"We are used to planes flying overhead," a resident of a nearby apartment complex told NDTV. "We thought there was an explosion at the construction site. Only later we realized that a plane had crashed."
The deadliest civil aviation accident in Indian history was a mid-air collision near New Delhi in 1996 which killed all 349 people on board the two planes, a Saudi Arabian Airlines Boeing 747-100B and a Kazakhstan Airlines Ilyushin Il-76.
An Air India passenger plane crashed in 1978 about 3 kilometers (2 miles) off the coast of Bandra, Mumbai. All 213 passengers and crew were killed.
Another Air India flight from Dubai to Mangalore overshot the runway on landing and fell over a cliff and caught fire in May 2010. Only eight of the 166 passengers and crew survived.