TOKYO: Three people were killed Sunday when a small plane crashed into a Tokyo suburb shortly after takeoff, police said, leaving nearby homes and cars ablaze and the charred remains of the fuselage lying in a burnt-out residence.
The single-engine propeller aircraft with a 36-year-old pilot and four passengers on board crashed at around 11:00 am (0200 GMT) shortly after leaving Chofu airport on the outskirts of the Japanese capital, public broadcaster NHK reported.
“Two people from the airplane are confirmed dead and a person believed to be a local resident has also died,” a spokesman for Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department told AFP.
“Thee other people from the airplane and two others on the ground were injured. Their condition is unknown.”
Local media reports said earlier that two men, including the pilot, and a woman on the ground were killed in the fiery crash.
An AFP photographer at the scene saw rescuers rushing to an ambulance carrying two victims on covered stretchers with the remains of the charred fuselage of the Piper PA-46 nearby.
At least three houses and two cars were on fire in the residential district of Chofu just some 500 metres from the airport.
The crash also damaged the roofs of other houses nearby while the plane’s fuselage was left upside down in the charred remains of a home.
“At first I thought a large truck had crashed into a neighbouring house as I heard the ground shake and then I then saw this ferocious smoke,” a female witness told AFP.
Television footage showed firefighters battling the blaze. The plane came down in an area near a school, sports stadium and shopping plaza.
“I thought it was flying quite low and then I heard a bang,” a local resident who witnessed the crash told NHK.
The plane was bound for Izuoshima island in the Pacific some 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of central Tokyo for a one-day training flight, local media said.
An official at Nippon Aerotech, which owns the plane, apologised for the crash and told reporters that the cause of the accident was being investigated.
The passengers may have been pilots-in-training, according to local media.
“This place is close to the airport but I’m surprised because I had never thought that an airplane would crash,” an 82-year-old woman told public broadcaster NHK.
Police are investigating the accident on suspicion of professional negligence resulting in death, reports said.
“I have lived here for a long time and get used to the noise of light planes, but it was obviously abnormal,” Kotaro Sunaga, a 32-year-old businessman, told Jiji Press.
The airport, run by the Tokyo Metropolitan government and with an 800-metre runway, remains closed following the accident.
The weather agency said it was clear and sunny with little wind near the airport, while NHK said the plane passed an annual checkup in May.