Authorities said they had accounted for four people who had been listed as missing after the airplane, which officials said carried only the pilot, struck a building where pilots train on the airport grounds.
“I heard a big, loud noise, but it was muffled. I saw smoke and flames. I rushed over,” said Lana Johnson, 65, who was in a post office near the airport when the plane crashed.
The pilot of the twin-engine turbo-prop Beechcraft King Air 200 reported losing engine power just after taking off from the airport and crashed as it tried to return, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
“The pilot did report that he did have left engine damage,” National Transportation Safety Board investigator Leah Yeager told an evening news conference.
Four people were dead and five people injured, Wichita Fire Marshal Brad Crisp said at a news conference. Authorities have not released the identities of the victims.
One of the injured was listed in serious condition and the four others were treated and released from Via Christi St. Francis Hospital, spokeswoman Maria Loving said.
Three of the dead were in a flight simulator and one was on the roof, airport officials said. Their bodies had not yet been recovered because of concerns about the building’s safety.
Fire Chief Ron Blackwell said the plane appeared to strike the top of the building, sparking an intense fire. Parts of the airplane were found on the roof and on the ground, he said.
Firefighters toiled for several minutes to bring the blaze under control, Blackwell said.
Heavy, dark smoke rose from the building, which sits between two sets of airport runways and includes a Cessna learning center with flight simulators. It suffered serious damage, including collapsed walls and ceilings, airport authorities said.
Authorities said more than 100 people were believed to have been in the building, which was operated by FlightSafety International, a Berkshire Hathaway Inc company.
Crews had searched three of four flight simulators in the building, but could not get into the fourth due to concerns about potential structural collapse, Crisp said.
Ron Ryan, a former airline owner, said he knew the pilot for two decades and employed him in the past as a contract pilot. Ryan said he also owned a King Air similar to the one in Thursday’s crash.
“On his day off, he flew co-pilot on my Learjet and captain on my King Air,” Ryan said in an interview, adding the pilot was a former air traffic controller.
Mid-Continent’s commercial flights were largely on schedule, the airport said.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will lead the investigation, the FAA said. (Reuters)