John Bacon and Kim Hjelmgaard, USA TODAY, AP
The pilot and co-pilot of a UPS plane were killed when their plane crashed while approaching an airport in Birmingham, Ala., early Wednesday.
Birmingham Fire Chief Ivor Brooks says both crewmembers were pronounced dead at the scene of the crash, in a grassy field just outside the city's airport early Wednesday.
The cargo plane, an Airbus A300, was en route from Louisville, Ky., when it crashed, FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said.
The National Transportation Safety Board tweeted that it launched a "Go-Team." NTSB Board Member Robert Sumwalt said at a press conference in Washington, D.C., that no cause of the crash had been determined, but he said he was optimistic that the plane's "black boxes" would be recovered.
"The board has a very good success rate at being able to recover the recorders," Sumwalt said.
The pilot and co-pilot were the only people aboard the plane, company spokesman Jeff Wafford said. The crash happened at about 5 a.m. local time on an overcast morning with occasional light rain.
The plane appears to have struck a massive tree north of the runway. The plane clipped some power lines at the end of the runway, and much of the surrounding neighborhoods lost power.
Airport Hills resident Chris Evans, 60, told the Birmingham News that he heard the crash.
"At first I thought it was thunder," he said. "The power went off and I looked out the window and saw nothing but fire."
Evans said that he was grateful that the plane had not hit any homes as it crashed.
"We've been trying to get the airport to buy up the rest of these houses for years," he said.
Bell told the News and it's website, al.com, that no one on the ground was injured, which is fortunate he said, because there is a church and some homes about 500 yards from the debris field.
"It's a tragedy anytime you have loss of life,'' the mayor told the website. "I am grateful for the men and women of the police and fire departments who quickly got the scene under control."
Bell, who was briefed on the situation by the city's fire chief, said the plane broke into two or three primary pieces. "There were two to three small explosions, but we think that was related to the aviation fuel," he said.
Flight tracking site flightaware.com shows the cargo plane, identified by the site and the FAA as flight UPS1354, dropped more than 9,000 feet over the course of two minutes about four minutes before the crash.
The plane, with tail number N155UP, is listed by the FAA as an Airbus A300 F4-622R which was manufactured in 2004. Maintenance records or information on any previous incidents involving the plane were not immediately available.
Birmingham Airport Authority spokeswoman Toni Herrera-Bast said the plane crashed in "open land" she described as a grassy field on the outskirts of Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport. She said the crash hasn't affected airport operations.
"As we work through this difficult situation, we ask for your patience, and that you keep those involved in your thoughts and prayers," Atlanta-based UPS said in a statement.