Burlington, N.C. — The pilot of a small cargo plane died early Wednesday after the plane crashed into a softball field at a park near the intersection of Sharpe Road and Melrose Drive in Burlington, police said.
The crash happened about 6 a.m. after the plane took off from Burlington-Alamance Regional Airport bound for New Jersey, police said. Witnesses told police that it appeared that the pilot, 57-year-old David Gamble of Greensboro, attempted to avoid residential areas prior to crashing into an area near North Park Community Center.
Gamble had no other passengers on board, and no other injuries were reported, police said.
Delores Burrell, who witnessed the crash, said she heard the plane as it was descending toward the field and heard the sound it make when it crashed.
"(It was) the loudest noise ever, and fire lit up the whole area – just a big blaze of fire," she said. "By that time, I had grabbed my coat and woke up my granddaughter up to go across the street to see what it was."
The plane, which was a Pilatus single-engine turbo prop, belonged to LabCorp, a medical testing company based in Burlington. Gamble was transporting interoffice mail from Burlington to an airport in Morristown, N.J., police said.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board have been contacted and will conduct the investigation of the crash, police said.
Police said they were concerned that the crash could have spread as much as 400 gallons of jet fuel near the park.
Investigators said it appeared that Gamble tried to avoid the neighborhood right across the street from the open field.
"I think that was really awesome if that was his thought to go over there rather than, you know, just trying to come down right over houses," Burrell said. "Thank God. We were blessed. We were really blessed."
"It could have been much more damage. More people could have gotten killed beside the pilot if it had fallen in the neighborhood," said Willie Cameron, who lives near the crash site.