METHUEN (CBS) – A pilot was killed Tuesday afternoon after a small plane crashed into a Methuen apartment building.
It happened on Riverview Blvd. just before 1:30 p.m. There are no reports of any other casualties or injuries.
The Pride’s Crossing Condo Complex is across the Merrimack River from the Lawrence Municipal Airport. The plane crashed into building No. 7.
Methuen Mayor Stephen Zanni did not identify the pilot, but said he was a former city councilor in Newburyport.
The WBZ-TV I-Team later confirmed his name is Al Lavender, who served one term as mayor of Newburyport.
In a statement, the Federal Aviation Administration said the plane was attempting to land when it went down.
A Sonex aircraft crashed in a residential area in Methuen, MA at about 1:25 p.m. today. The aircraft was on a one mile final approach to Runway 14 at Lawrence Municipal Airport. The FAA will investigate and the NTSB will determine the probable cause for the accident.
The building was on fire following the crash, police said.
Lavender had built the experimental plane in May 2016.
In a statement, Experimental Aircraft Association Dick Knapinski said such crashes are rare.
“EAA’s thoughts and prayers go to the family of the pilot involved in Tuesday’s accident, as well as all those involved,” said Knapinski. “The NTSB and FAA will investigate this tragic accident to find its cause, as it is a rare occurrence among these types of aircraft. The Sonex aircraft is a well-established, top-quality aircraft that has an outstanding history of flight over the past 20 years.”
All residents were able to safely escape the 12-unit building. No one was home in the apartment where the plane came to a rest.
One woman on the first floor said parts of her ceiling came crashing down on her when the plane hit the building.
WBZ-TV’s Christina Hager reports
Vera Kimball lives in the condominium complex.
“A big and loud noise, nothing like I ever heard before. And then all of a sudden all the smoke alarms went off, and I went outside my back, and stuff was coming off the roof. It was the insulation,” Kimball said.
“We just got out, we automatically got out. We smelled smoke. You couldn’t stay in, because the noise from the smoke alarms. They all went off the 12 units. And then we came out, and they wouldn’t let us go back.”
The tail of the plane could be seen sticking out of the roof of the three-story complex.
Resident Robert Nochnuk said “the whole building shook” when the plane crashed.
“We’re fortunate to be alive and we hope the best for everyone else involved. Our sympathies go out to the family of the pilot,” said Nochnuk.
Rich Ward was driving on Interstate 495 South when he saw the plane in flames in the air.
“I’ve never witnessed anything like that in my life. I can’t get it out of my head,” Ward told WBZ-TV.
Keith Lontine lives less than a mile from the apartment building.
He told WBZ-TV he did not see flames coming from the plane before it crashed.
“I watched it fall out of the sky,” said Lontine.
Lotine said he regularly watches aircrafts landing at Lawrence Municipal Airport.
“I did not hear the impact. As a matter of fact, I didn’t know if I was seeing things,” Lotine told WBZ-TV. “I was looking for smoke, I ran right up to the building, I didn’t see any smoke right away. Then all of a sudden, I seen people running out of the building, I heard sirens, and I just knew.”
Vera Kimball said the plane crashed into two bedrooms in units where nobody was home.
“My stomach is turning and turning,” she said. “I had my granddaughter with me, and that was even scarier, she was sleeping, it woke her up.”
Charlene Porter lives in the condo building where the plane hit.
“It was just flying in the air. I saw it through the window and we had to get the heck out of there,” Porter told WBZ NewsRadio 1030.
Tuesday evening, a dark-colored tarp covered the plane and the hole in the roof it created.
Another building resident told WBZ NewsRadio’s Karyn Regal she can’t go home.
“We have no idea where we’re going. They’re going to let us in at some point. The plane’s still in the roof. They have to wait,” Diane said.
Vincent Aprea, an experienced pilot who flies in the area, said the Sonex aircraft is known to have problems with the engine overheating.
“The Sonex aircraft is designed as a motor glider,” said Aprea. “It’s designed to take off, fly like a conventional airplane, and then with the power off, meaning the motor shut down, glide to a landing.”
Bob Di Meo, a member of the local Experimental Aircraft Association, spoke about Lavender and his beloved plane project.
“He said ‘Would you come over and take a look at it?’ and so I did and it looked sound. It looked like he had done a nice job with the airplane and I said ‘Yeah, I think it’s ready,” Di Meo told WBZ.
“He was a level headed guy. He was soft spoken, just an all around nice guy, courteous, willing to help anyone out, really nice guy,” Di Meo added.
In 1999 a plane with four people on board lost power after takeoff and crashed in the same apartment complex. The plane came to a rest against the building and no one was seriously injured.
Check back with CBSBoston.com for more details on this breaking news story.
WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Karyn Regal reports