BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- A UPS cargo plane crashed into a field near the Birmingham airport Wednesday, killing two pilots and scattering wreckage over a rural area moments after witnesses heard the massive A300 jet coming in at treetop level.
People living near the airfield reported seeing flames coming from the plane and hearing its engines struggle in the final moments before impact.
"It was on fire before it hit," said Jerome Sanders, who lives directly across from the runway.
The plane, which departed from Louisville, Ky., went down about a half-mile from Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport and broke into several pieces and caught fire. The pilot and co-pilot were the only people aboard.
Mayor William Bell, who was briefed by the city's fire chief, said there were two or three small explosions that authorities believe were from aviation fuel.
Weather conditions at the time were rainy with low clouds.
Toni Herrera-Bast, a spokeswoman for the city's airport authority, said the crash did not affect airport operations, but it knocked down power lines and appeared to have toppled at least one tree and utility pole.
UPS spokesman Jeff Wafford said the plane was carrying a variety of cargo, but he did not elaborate. The names of the crew were not immediately released.
The National Transportation Safety Board sent a team of investigators to the scene.
Ryan Wimbleduff, who lives just across the street from the airport property, said the crash shook his house violently. Standing in his driveway, he and his mother could see the burning wreckage.
"I ran outside and it looked like the sun was coming up because of the fire on the hill," he said. "Balls of fire were rolling toward us."
Chunks of riveted metal that appeared to be from the plane landed in the yard of Cornelius and Barbara Benson, who live just a short walk from the crash site.