BILLINGS – A small airplane crashed into a building here early Friday, causing an explosion and fire and killing the pilot, officials said.
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Mike Fergus said the Beachcraft 1900 had just taken off from Billings Logan International Airport when it crashed into a building in the Billings Heights at 1:25 a.m.
“The plane was destroyed by fire, that’s one reason we don’t have the N-number,” said Fergus, referring to the plane’s identification number.
The FAA operations center identified the plane as Alpine Air flight No. 5008. Alpine Air confirmed the plane was carrying mail bound for Great Falls.
Fergus said a construction materials building was destroyed by the fire and a nearby United Rentals building was damaged by debris.
The Billings Fire Department confirmed the pilot’s body was found in the wreckage. His name hasn’t been released.
There were no reports of injuries on the ground.
A Postal Service worker arrived to secure the mail.
Airport fire chief Michael Glancy said at least 300 gallons of jet fuel spilled in the crash, creating puddles that caught fire.
Witnesses said it appeared the plane hit the ground in the lot of a rental business and skidded into the construction materials building.
Mike Krause was walking nearby when the plane came down.
“I just watched the light come out of the sky,” Krause told The Billings Gazette. “To me it looked like the plane was upside down. And then it just came straight down into the lot.”
Duane Demars, who lives a few blocks east of the crash site, said he heard two loud explosions and four smaller ones.
“It sounded excruciating, like the propeller was reversed in mid-air,” he said. “When I got here, flames were at a length of 200 to 300 feet and 20 feet high in the air.”
According to Alpine Air’s Web site, the company has a fleet of 29 airplanes and its biggest client is the U.S. Postal Service. The company is headquartered in Provo, Utah and has 105 employees in six states.
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