US: 3 killed after plane crashes during takeoff

A small plane hit a truck on the runway during takeoff, caught fire and crashed into the woods near a coastal Maine airport, killing three people, authorities said today.

The Cessna 172 was heading north on the runway last evening when it struck a pickup truck that was crossing the runway, authorities said. The plane continued to climb and as it turned to the east, it spiraled downward about into the woods and immediately burst into flames, according to the Knox County sheriff's office.

With flames shooting 10 to 20 feet in the air and smoke billowing into the sky, the first people to the scene tried unsuccessfully to pull one of the occupants from the burning wreckage, said John Newcomb, president of the Downeast Air airline services company, who was among those who tried to help.

The four-seat plane was destroyed by flames, so there was no way to see its identifying number, airport manager Jeff Northgraves said.

The bodies were still at the crash site yesterday. Officials were working to confirm the identities of the three people aboard.

Northgraves said the truck was authorised to be on the airport grounds and was driven by a pilot. He would not identify the driver but said it was not a county vehicle, nor a county employee.

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