A twin-engine plane crashed into a building shortly after takeoff from Mid-Continent Airport in Wichita, Kan., on Thursday, killing four people, injuring five and touching off what one official described as a horrific fire that partially collapsed the structure.
Officials said the plane struck the top of the airport’s Flight Safety Building, which houses flight simulators and serves as a training facility for pilots. About 100 people were inside at the time of the crash, an official said.
Three people inside the building died and a fourth body was found on the roof, said Wichita city spokesman Van Williams. The pilot, said to be the only person on board the plane, is believed to be among the dead.
Officials described the crash as a “terrible tragedy” and said they did not believe it was an intentional act.
Wichita Fire Marshal Brad Crisp said he was confident there were no other casualties.
“This is just a really difficult time for all of us,” Crisp told reporters at the scene.
Officials said they would need heavy machinery to safely enter the building to retrieve the bodies.
The victims’ identities were not released pending notification of their families.
The five injured people were taken to Via Christi Health St. Francis Hospital. One was in serious condition and four were treated and released, said hospital spokeswoman Maria Loving.
The twin-engine Beechcraft King Air had just taken off from the Wichita airport about 10 a.m. when the pilot reported losing engine power, said Elizabeth Isham Cory, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration.
The pilot attempted to return to the runway but crashed into the building, Isham Cory said. The impact caused an explosion and fire.
“It was a horrific firefight,” Wichita Fire Chief Ron Blackwell said. The plume of smoke could be seen for miles.
A pilot in the area contacted the airport’s traffic control tower minutes after the crash. In an air traffic recording on LiveATC.net, the pilot asks, “What’s, uh, what’s on fire?”
“We just lost an aircraft,” the air traffic controller replies.
Jaison Podkanowicz said he was working near the airport when he heard a “loud banging noise.”
“It sounded like something fell off the back of a truck,” Podkanowicz said. “There was the plane. It was crushed. It caught fire almost instantly.” Standing about 500 yards away, he said, he could feel the heat from the fire.
Wichita Police Capt. John Speer said officials were interviewing witnesses and would be on the scene for at least two days.
Isham Cory said FAA officials would be assisting the National Transportation Safety Board in the investigation. NTSB investigators were expected to arrive Thursday night, Crisp said.
The plane was headed to Mena, Ark., for painting and refurbishing, according to a statement from Rose Aircraft Services in Mena.
Flights at the Wichita airport had resumed, but local law enforcement asked the public to stay away from the area unless they had business at the airport.
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Times staff writer Javier Panzar contributed to this report.