Saturday November 17, 2012

OWLS HEAD, Maine (AP) -- A small plane crashed in a wooded area shortly after taking off from Knox County Regional Airport on Friday evening and burst into flames, killing three people, authorities said.

With flames shooting 10 to 20 feet in the air, the first people to the scene tried unsuccessfully to pull one of the occupants from the burning wreckage, which sent smoke billowing into the night sky, said John Newcomb, president of Down East Air, who went to the scene to try to help.

The Cessna 172, with seating for four, ran into trouble on its takeoff roll and went down at 5 p.m., airport manager Jeff Northgraves said.

Three people died in the crash and officials were searching the woods to make sure all victims were accounted for, Knox County Sheriff Donna Dennison said.

The plane was destroyed by flames, so there was no way to see its identifying number, Newcomb said. It was unknown who was aboard, officials said.

Another pilot witnessed the impact, and emergency workers were quickly summoned to the scene, about 200 to 300 yards from the end of one of the runways, Newcomb said. The flames were hot enough to pop the airplane’s tires and to keep rescuers away from the airplane, he said.

The airport has two commercial carriers, but the plane that crashed was believed to be privately owned, officials said. The skies were clear at the time with light winds, the National Weather Service said.

The airport was the site of the deadliest commercial airplane crash in Maine history in 1979. More than a dozen passengers and two pilots were killed when a de Havilland Twin Otter turboprop crashed short of the runway in foggy weather. There was only one survivor, a 16-year-old boy.