Plane crashes near Baton Rouge, damages homes; pilot killed

BAKER, La. (AP) — A small private plane crashed Friday afternoon in a Baton Rouge suburb, killing the pilot and damaging three homes, authorities said.

There were no reports of injuries to residents on the ground, said Nick McDonner, spokesman for the East Baton Rouge Parish Department of Emergency Medical Services.

The plane crashed in Baker just after 1 p.m. shortly after taking off from Baton Rouge Metro Airport, about 3 miles away. The crash started a fire that damaged three homes in the densely populated subdivision with about 100 modest brick homes.

Jim Caldwell, a spokesman for the Baton Rouge airport, confirmed the pilot was killed in the crash and was the only passenger on the plane, which clipped the roof of one home and crashed into the back of two others before catching fire. Firefighters extinguished the fire.

Caldwell identified the pilot as John Fowler, who lived in the Baton Rouge area and frequently flew out of that airport. He said Fowler apparently called the airport's tower shortly after takeoff to report an unspecified problem with his company-owned King Air 200 twin-engine plane.

Shortly after calling the tower, the plane struck the roof of a house that was occupied by a woman. She was able to get out of the house unharmed, Caldwell said.

Authorities say the National Transportation Safety Board will determine the cause of the crash once it completes its investigation.

On Friday, all authorities could say is that the aircraft went down minutes after it left the airport.

"Soon after takeoff he started having problems and subsequently crashed into this neighborhood, hitting one home and crashing into the backs of two others that subsequently caught fire and sustained significant fire damage," Caldwell said.

Residents said they were used to hearing the roar of airplanes flying over the neighborhood, so it wasn't unusual when Rosie Winters heard the aircraft. What was unusual was that the noise stopped, she said.

"I heard 'Boom!'" said Winters, who has lived in the neighborhood for about 10 years. Initially she thought the noise was thunder, drawing her outside. Then she saw the smoke.

"I started running down the street," she said. "All I could think about were those kids. They are always at home. Then there was a second explosion and I turned around."

Winters was concerned about Tasha Smith's two teenagers, who normally are inside the three-bedroom home owned by Smith and her brother, Michael Smith.

Tasha Smith, who moved to the area about a year ago, said no one was home when the crash happened. She had just left to drop her 16-year-old daughter off at basketball practice when neighbors began calling her, saying a plane had hit her house.

"I was emotional," she said, "but then I realized we can get another house. It's a blessing to be alive. It's the work of the devil, but we're here."

Smith said she had not yet had an opportunity to see the actual damage, but she said she knows it "hit the back of the house."

Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Elizabeth Cory said the NTSB would take the lead on the investigation but her agency would assist.

Baker Police Chief Mike Knaps said one of his officers was at a nearby Walmart store, heard the plane sputtering and looked up to see it flying low before the crash.

"He saw the big smoke and decided he needed to call it in to the office," Knaps said. "We then started getting calls from neighbors and responded to the scene."

When authorities arrived, the rear of the two houses were engulfed in flames, authorities said.


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