MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - A private plane crashed near the Tupelo airport just before 9 a.m. Monday, killing four people on board.
According to Tupelo Police Chief Bart Aguirre, a pilot and three passengers are dead.
According to WTVA, Lee County Coroner Carolyn Green identified the victims as Henry L. Jackson, his wife Gwynn Groggle, Dr. Charles Torti, and Carrie Torti. All four are residents of Kerrville, Texas.
The plane is a Beech Bonanza, a single-engine, six-seat aircraft registered to a company in Texas. The police chief said a mechanical issue could have caused the crash.
According to fire officials, the plane crashed in a wooded area and no other structures were damaged in the crash.
A Federal Aviation Administration official said the pilot reported smoke in the cockpit before the plane crashed.
Shelton said the plane was fully loaded with fuel when it took off, bound for Virginia, and the nature of the crash caused it to burst into flames.
Tupelo officials said they have secured the scene and are waiting on federal officials to arrive and investigate the crash.
"Anytime there is an incident that involves an aircraft, that immediately falls under federal jurisdiction," Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton said.
Shelton also agrees with the police chief and is speculating the cause of the crash is mechanical failure.
"This is just speculation on my part; this is not any type of official source. You're typically talking about some type of mechanical issue," Shelton said.
The plane crashed on a small access road less than half a mile from the Tupelo airport. The road leads to a sewage treatment plant.
Witnesses said they rushed to the crash site, but could not get close enough to provide any help because a chain link fence surrounding the sewage treatment plant kept them out.
"It went straight up about 3,000 feet and came right back down," Carl Fleming said.
Fleming was one of the witnesses that saw what happened to the plane.
"It was pretty loud," Fleming said. "Loud enough to shake the ground." It also shook the walls of nearby homes.
The police chief said because the plane crashed in the sewage plant, it was impossible for witnesses to get to the scene.
Firefighters arrived and used bolt cutters to get through the fence. Shelton acknowledged the fast response of the first responders, pointing it only took four minutes for the first crews to arrive on scene.
The accident was reported at 8:34 a.m., with the first responder crews arriving on scene at 8:38 a.m.
"It was a tremendous response by our first responders," Shelton said.
Witnesses said the plane hit several trees on its way down, then exploded twice.
"You could hear the trees popping," Fleming said. "The smoke was coming out of those trees and going back that way."
Shelton said he wanted to emphasize the crash does not reflect a safety concern with the Tupelo airport.
"This is a very, very uncommon occurrence at Tupelo airport, or any airport for that matter," Shelton said.
He said in spite of some reported incidents at the airport, it does not show a reason for concern due to the amount of traffic the airport conducts.
"We serve all three areas of aircraft here," Shelton said. "Tupelo is small enough where it's a place for pilots to do student training. It's a place for recreational pilots to go out and use their own place. It's also a cargo hub for commercial travel."
He said because of the amount of traffic the airport sees, it is not unusual for some reported incidents to show up occasionally.
"I don't think it's out of the norm," Shelton said. "What you would look at is if there is some sort of safety issues or safety concerns with the airport and there are none."
This is not the first plane to crash in Tupelo. A pilot was killed in a crash in 2011.