The Cessna 172 was heading north on the Knox County Regional Airport runway early Friday evening when it struck the truck, which was authorized to be on airport grounds, Knox County Chief Deputy Sheriff Tim Carroll said. The plane continued to climb and as it turned to the east, it spiraled downward about 200 to 300 yards into the thick woods and immediately burst into flames, the sheriff's office said.
Because the plane's identification numbers had been burned off, "we don't have verification that this aircraft is what we think it is," airport manager Jeff Northgraves said. That means the state medical examiner will have to identify the badly burned bodies, and "we don't expect it will be today," Northgraves said Saturday.
Authorities are "fairly sure" the plane wasn't based at the mid-coastal airport, Northgraves aid. The victims are believed to be one Maine resident and two from outside the state, Carroll said.
The pickup truck that was struck by the plane was allowed to be at the airport and was driven by a pilot who was picking up another pilot who had parked a plane in a hangar, Carroll said. The truck driver wasn't hurt.
All trucks at the airport are equipped with radios to pick up any traffic from planes, Northgraves said. He said planes are required to radio their positions before, during and after takeoff. He said it wasn't known yet whether the plane that crashed had radioed its actions.
The collision sent flames 10 to 20 feet in the air and smoke billowing into the sky. The first people to the scene tried unsuccessfully to pull one of the occupants from the burning wreckage, said John Newcomb, president of the Downeast Air airline services company, who was among those who tried to help.
The area is so rough that a helicopter will be needed to remove the four-seat plane, the same way the bodies were removed, Northgraves said.
Investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration and officials from the National Transportation Safety Board planned to begin investigating the crash Saturday.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)