Federal authorities were scouring the wreckage of a small jet crash to determine what caused it to go down near a suburban airport, killing two people aboard. Several witnesses said a nose compartment door was open as the plane lifted off.
Moments after the twin-engine Cessna Citation lifted off Friday morning from Van Nuys Airport in the San Fernando Valley, the pilot radioed the tower with a request to return, the National Transportation Safety Board said.
The business jet, which was heading to Long Beach to pick up two passengers and continue to Prescott, Ariz., was cleared to land but it never made it.
A tower controller noticed the plane "wobble" as it turned around, then it crashed about a half mile north of the airport and within 100 feet of several homes, said NTSB investigator Howard Plagens. No nearby structures appeared to be damaged.
The jet was carrying a full load of 3,400 pounds of fuel and burst into flames, said Assistant Fire Chief Tim Manning. Firefighters sprayed foam and quickly put out the fire, he said.
Steve Hofmann, who lives several doors from the accident site, said he heard a "loud thunderclap" and then saw the plane go down.
"I immediately ran down to see what had happened and whether there were any survivors," Hofmann said. "I heard an engine winding down ... then the fuel tanks exploded, and I pretty much knew that no one survived that."
The two people aboard were crew members of Sun Quest Executive Air Charter, said Joe Miller, a dispatcher with Sun Quest Executive Air Charter, which operated the flight. He declined to comment on their identities, and the county coroner's office has not positively identified the victims.
Witness Steve Purwin, a corporate jet pilot, said the plane's left-hand nose baggage door was "wide open" as it took off.
The jet was veering side to side, with its nose high at a low speed, he said.
"He was right on the verge of stall," Purwin said.
Van Nuys is the busiest general aviation airport in the nation, with an average of nearly 500,000 takeoffs and landings annually. The 730-acre facility is owned by the city's Los Angeles World Airports department and is used by private, corporate, charter, flight instruction and maintenance operations. The airport is often used by entertainment industry figures.
On a single day in 1986, seven people were killed in two crashes while landing at Van Nuys. A plane carrying six people including a film and commercial director went down two hours after a crash killed a boyfriend of game show hostess Vanna White.
In 2000, a jet owned by actor Jim Carrey, who wasn't aboard, and a twin-engine turboprop operated by Sun Quest clipped each other on approach to Van Nuys but both landed safely.
Associated Press writers Greg Risling, Jacob Adelman, Solvej Schou and Robert Jablon contributed to this report.
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