BY JAY REEVES
BIRMINGHAM — A UPS cargo plane crashed Wednesday morning as it approached an Alabama airport, killing two crew members on board and scattering boxes and charred debris across the grassy field where it made impact, officials said.
The pilot and co-pilot of the jet were pronounced dead at the scene, said Birmingham Fire Chief Ivor Brooks. The crash site had been burning, but the blaze was extinguished by late morning, Brooks said.
The plane crashed in an open field on the outskirts of Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport, said Toni Herrera-Bast, a spokeswoman for the city's airport authority. The crash had not affected airport operations, though it did appear to topple a tree and a utility pole.
The top was broken out of the tree and there are pieces of a utility pole and limbs in the road. Nearby, grass was blackened near the bottom of a hill. A piece of the fuselage and an engine are visible on the crest of the hill. White smoke was pouring from the other side of the hill.
It was not immediately known what the plane was carrying; UPS spokesman Jeff Wafford said only that the plane was carrying a variety of cargo.
Sharon Wilson, who lives near the airport, said she was in bed before dawn when she heard what sounded like engines sputtering as the plane went over her house.
"It sounded like an airplane had given out of fuel. We thought it was trying to make it to the airport. But a few minutes later we heard a loud 'boom,'" she said.
Another resident, Jerome Sanders, lives directly across from the runway. He said he heard a plane just before dawn and could see flames seconds before it crashed.
"It was on fire before it hit," Sanders said.
At 7 a.m. Wednesday, conditions in the area were rainy with low clouds. About 45 minutes later, smoke was still rising from the scene, where a piece of the plane's white fuselage lay near a blackened area on the ground.
"The plane is in several sections," said Birmingham Mayor William Bell, who was briefed on the situation by the city's fire chief. "There were two to three small explosions, but we think that was related to the aviation fuel."
"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.
Previously, a UPS cargo plane crashed on Sept. 3, 2010, in the United Arab Emirates, just outside Dubai. Both pilots were killed. Authorities there blamed the crash on its load of between 80,000 to 90,000 lithium batteries, which are sensitive to temperature. Investigators found that a fire on board likely began in the cargo containing the batteries.
The Airbus A300 that had taken off from Louisville, Ky., crashed around 5 a.m. CDT about a half-mile from the runway, said Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said.
Airbus said in a news release that the plane was built in 2003 and had logged about 11,000 flight hours over 6,800 flights.
The A300 was Airbus' first plane, and the type first flew in 1972. American Airlines retired its last A300 in 2009, and no U.S. passenger airlines have flown it since then. Airbus quit building them in 2007 after making a total of 816 A300 and A310s.
Associated Press writers Becky Yonker and Bruce Schreiner in Louisville, Ky., Jeff Martin in Atlanta and Josh Freed in Minneapolis contributed to this report.