SAO PAULO (AP) — A regional airliner crashed in a northeastern city in Brazil Monday, killing all 16 people on board, the nation's Air Force said.
The crew of the twin-turboprop aircraft belonging to Noar Airlines reported problems shortly after taking off about 7 a.m. (6 a.m. EDT; 1000 GMT) from the city of Recife en route to the city of Natal.
The Air Force did not indicate what the problems were or what caused the crash, but said it is investigating. Weather did not seem to be a factor as it was overcast but not raining when the plane went down.
About five minutes after taking off, the pilot tried to make an emergency landing in a vacant lot near a beach on the outskirts of the city's center, near several apartment buildings. But witnesses said the aircraft went down hard and burst into flames shortly afterward.
"I saw a woman in a window (of the plane) asking for help and it just exploded," witness Erandir Rodrigues da Silva told the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper. "There was nothing to be done."
Recife Fire Chief Valdyr Oliveira told Estado radio that the fire was controlled quickly and that investigators are working at the scene for clues as to why the plane went down.
"The pilot was able to land, but the impact caused an explosion," said Oliveira.
A witness' video posted on the Folha newspaper's website showed the aircraft in flames on the ground, black plumes of smoke rising from it, a crowd of onlookers gathered nearby. Morning traffic crawled along a highway between the vacant lot where the plane went down and a strip of beach.
The Air Force said the plane that crashed was a L-410, built by LET Aircraft Industries in the Czech Republic. It had a capacity for 19 passengers, according to Noar's website, along with a crew of two.
Noar Airlines' website said it began operations in June 2010 and that it makes 278 flights a week. It owns a fleet of four small planes and the plane that went down was purchased new about a year ago.
Associated Press writer Marco Sibaja in Brasilia contributed to this report.