5 employees of North Little Rock firm killed in plane crash near Clinton National

A plane was down near the 3M plant in Little Rock on Wednesday afternoon. (Staci Vandagriff/Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)
A plane was down near the 3M plant in Little Rock on Wednesday afternoon. (Staci Vandagriff/Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)

Five employees of North Little Rock's CTEH died in a plane crash in Little Rock around noon Wednesday, the environmental consulting firm said in a news release.

“We are incredibly saddened to report the loss of our Little Rock colleagues,” said Paul Nony, senior vice president of CTEH, in the release. “We ask everyone to keep the families of those lost and the entire CTEH team in their thoughts and prayers.” 

The small aircraft crashed after taking off from the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport, leaving no survivors, local authorities said earlier on Wednesday. The airport shared its condolences in a statement released Wednesday evening.

Five people were on board the plane, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, which also said that information is preliminary and subject to change. CTEH said the pilot was one of the five employees who died. 

The National Transportation Safety Board identified the plane as a twin-turboprop Beechcraft King Air B200. The FAA said the plane was headed to John Glenn Columbus International Airport in Ohio.

The plane crashed in a wooded, rocky area on 3M Road, near the 3M plant at 3110 Walters Road, authorities said. That's about a mile from the airport, said Lt. Cody Burk, a spokesman for the Pulaski County sheriff’s office.

The weather was bad at the time, Burk said, but he said the final call on the cause of the crash was not his to make. The National Transportation Safety Board said late Wednesday that its investigators were expected to arrive on Thursday. 

The NTSB also said to expect its preliminary report 15 days after the crash and that these types of investigations take one to two years to wrap up.

Airport spokesperson Shane Carter said the airport doesn't communicate weather advisories to aircraft and that any such advisory would come from the FAA. The FAA referred the Democrat-Gazette to the NTSB when it was asked whether the aircraft was informed of the National Weather Service-issued wind advisory that was in effect on Wednesday. Weather information will be collected as part of its investigation, the NTSB said.

Wisps of white smoke could be seen rising from behind a shed on the plant's property, but nearby residents said the fire was initially much more intense.

Dennis Gordon said he was standing on 39th Street when he heard the wind pick up and then an explosion. Several smaller explosions followed, and then a huge fire, he said.

“It was just red, then it starts turning black, and there’s this burnt smell,” Gordon said.

He said he’d watched a plume of black smoke rise over the trees before fire crews arrived and extinguished it.

The investigation into the crash will be handled by Pulaski County, Little Rock Police spokesman Mark Edwards said, but Little Rock Police Chief Heath Helton and other police leadership were on the scene.

Emergency personnel from a variety of agencies, including the Little Rock fire department, were on the scene Wednesday, Burk said. He said the site is about 100 yards from the dividing line between city and county jurisdiction, so all area agencies pitched in.

The Little Rock police mobile command center truck was on the scene Wednesday afternoon, and Mayor Frank Scott could be seen in the doorway as officers worked on the scene.

This story has been updated. It was originally published at 12:36 p.m. under the headline "Police respond to plane crash in Little Rock."

CORRECTION: The National Transportation Safety Board on Wednesday identified the plane as a "Beech B200 airplane," short for a King Air B200 twin-turboprop plane manufactured by Beechcraft. An earlier version of this article included the Federal Aviation Administration's incorrect preliminary identification of the plane.

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