ROANOKE CO.- The pilot and a passenger of a small private plane were apparently seriously injured after the plane crashed into a corner of the UPS Freight terminal near the Roanoke Regional Airport shortly before 1 p.m. today and burst into flames. People on the ground reported UPS employees were uninjured.
Before the crash the pilot of the two-person plane reported to air traffic control he was having trouble, an airport spokesman said. There were high gusting winds at the time.
Since it was a regional haz mat incident, Salem Fire & Emergency Medical Services hazardous materials team responded to the accident in the vicinity of Thirlane and Peters Creek Road, as well as Roanoke County and Roanoke City firefighters.
Mike Saunders, who works for a Glenvar company and who was in the area when the plane took off, described what he saw: “I was coming from Valley Pointe industrial complex and turning on Peters Creek Road heading for the Interstate when I saw the plane go up in the air and it didn’t look like it had enough altitude. It started making popping sounds and came down, hit the lines and crashed. When it hit the ground, it just became a big ball of flame,” said Saunders, a Vinton resident, who is superintendent of Kings Hauling and Excavating, and Specialized Saw and Mower.
“There were people running out of the UPS building. It looked like the plane stopped right there at the building,” Saunders added. “I don’t see how anybody got out alive.” Another witness said he saw the passenger get out of the plane and lean against a building.
Emergency responders from Roanoke County and Roanoke City had to extricate the pilot from the wreckage.
Saunders said he got off the Interstate and turned back, heading toward the intersection of Peters Creek and Thirlane, to see if he could help, “but by the time I got over there the traffic was so heavy I couldn’t get near,” he added.
Airport spokesman Sherry Wallace issued a press release a little over an hour after the 12:53 p.m. crash that identified the plane as a Piper PA 46 aircraft with two people on board. She said it was attempting to take off when the pilot called the tower asking for emergency assistance.
A 2:10 p.m. briefing by Virginia State Police and Roanoke County personnel gave few details about the pilot and passenger except to say they survived the crash and were transported to Carilion hospital with what were believed to be life-threatening injuries.
It was reported that nearby Green Ridge Recreation Center and the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles office had closed for the rest of Tuesday.