BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP/NewsChannel 5) - A Moore County woman was one of two pilots killed when a UPS cargo plane crashed and burned Wednesday morning on the outskirts of an Alabama airport.
The Moore County News reported that Shanda Carney Fanning, 37, of Lynchburg, was one of the pilots killed, although UPS has yet to release the names of the two pilots. The paper said she was married to Bret Fanning, an employee at Jack Daniel Distillery.
Fanning worked at the Shelbyville Municipal Airport from 1999 to 2002. She worked for Hank Williamson at the airport. He said she loved aviation and was very responsible.
"She was not accident prone. She was not clumsy. She was very deliberate in everything that she did. She was an excellent employee. I trusted her without question," said Williamson.
The pilot and co-pilot were both killed, said Birmingham Fire Chief Ivor Brooks. The two were the only people on the plane. The crash site burned before the blaze was extinguished, Brooks said.
The plane crashed in an open field on the outskirts of Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport, said Toni Herrera-Bast, a spokeswoman for the city's airport authority. The crash had not affected airport operations, but it knocked power lines down in the area and appeared to have toppled at least one tree and utility pole.
Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board arrived on the scene around 11 a.m. They said the A300-600F aircraft was coming from Louisville and crashed on approach to the runway. The plane went through some trees before hitting the bottom of a hill.
The plane broke into several pieces before coming to rest about 200 yards from the initial ground impact. The fuselage landed near the runway. Officials said it was heavily damaged by fire.
As of Wednesday evening, the tail section was still smoldering and officials were unable to get the flight data recorder to look for clues into what happened.
"The plane is in several sections," said Birmingham Mayor William Bell, who was briefed on the situation by the city's fire chief. "There were two to three small explosions, but we think that was related to the aviation fuel."
NTSB investigators were still making an overall assessment to begin planning the next stages of their investigation. They expected most of their work to occur Thursday and hoped to have a better indication of what caused the crash.
Any witnesses who saw what happened have been asked to come forward and shed light on what they saw.
At 7 a.m. Wednesday, conditions in the area were rainy with low clouds but it was unknown if weather was a factor in the crash.
Initial information indicated there were no distress calls made by the pilots.
UPS spokesman Jeff Wafford said the plane was carrying a variety of cargo, but he did not elaborate. The names and hometowns of the crewmembers have not been released.
Chunks of riveted metal that appeared to be from the plane landed in the yard of Cornelius and Barbara Benson, who live in a two-story, split-foyer house just a short walk from the crash site.
Barbara Benson, age 72, said she and her husband, Cornelius, age 75, were awakened from sleep at the time of the crash by "this big sonic boom."
"I saw a big red flash through my bedroom window," she said.
As it got light, the two were able to see that the tops of trees around their property had been knocked onto the ground and that they were missing a piece of their back deck.
Cornelius Benson said planes routinely fly so low over his house that a few years ago, the airport authority sent crews to remove the tops from trees around his house.
"The planes come so close sometimes I've been able to wave at the captains as they pass," Barbara Benson said.
"It was just a matter of time before something happened," Cornelius Benson said.
Sharon Wilson, who also lives near the airport, said she was in bed before dawn when she heard what sounded like engines sputtering as the plane went over her house.
"It sounded like an airplane had given out of fuel. We thought it was trying to make it to the airport. But a few minutes later we heard a loud `Boom!'" she said.
Another resident, Jerome Sanders, lives directly across from the runway. He said he heard a plane just before dawn and could see flames seconds before it crashed. "It was on fire before it hit," Sanders said.
Residents of a home about a half-mile away from the crash site called police to report that a piece of the plane had fallen on their rooftop, Birmingham Fire Battalion Chief C.W. Mardis said. Police were dispatched to investigate that report, one of two in a neighborhood known as Airport Hills, Mardis said.
James Giles, who lives just off the airport's property, said the plane missed his home by a couple hundred yards, judging from the tree damage and debris. He was away at work at the time, but said it was clear from the scene that the plane was attempting to land on the north-south runway that is typically used by much smaller aircraft. Large planes such as the A300 typically use the bigger east-west runway to land in Birmingham, he said.
"They were just trying to get to a landing spot, anywhere," he said.
Atlanta-based UPS said in a statement that "as we work through this difficult situation, we ask for your patience, and that you keep those involved in your thoughts and prayers."
Previously, a UPS cargo plane crashed on Sept. 3, 2010, in the United Arab Emirates, just outside Dubai. Both pilots were killed. Authorities there blamed the crash on its load of between 80,000 to 90,000 lithium batteries, which are sensitive to temperature. Investigators found that a fire on board likely began in the cargo containing the batteries.
The Airbus A300 that had taken off from Louisville, Ky., crashed around 5 a.m. CDT about a half-mile from the runway, said Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said.
Airbus said in a news release that the plane was built in 2003 and had logged about 11,000 flight hours over 6,800 flights.
The A300 was Airbus' first plane, and the type first flew in 1972. American Airlines retired its last A300 in 2009, and no U.S. passenger airlines have flown it since then. Airbus quit building them in 2007 after making a total of 816 A300 and A310s.