A plane crashed in a Burlington park around 6 a.m. Wednesday, killing the pilot.
Burlington Police said the pilot was David Gamble, 57, of Greensboro. He was the only person on board.
The 1999 model plane was a Pilatus PC-12 single engine turbo prop. It was headed to the Morristown, N.J. Municipal Airport, and was making an inter-office mail delivery for Burlington-based LabCorp, the owner of the plane.
Burlington Police Assistant Chief Chris Verdeck said LabCorp planes are frequently coming in and out of the Burlington airport, regularly making the mail runs.
The plane was leaving the Burlington airport Wednesday morning, which is about five miles from the crash site. The AP reports that officials are unsure if the pilot issued a distress call before the crash.
Debris is scattered on the softball field at the North Park Community Center. Police said one of the biggest concerns is the amount of jet fuel - 400 gallons.
911 calls started coming in as the plane was about to crash.
“I witnessed the plane circle, circle, circle and then it just went straight down into the ground," said one man who called from another part of the city.
"Hit the ground, the sky turned red," he said. "I can’t even believe I just witnessed this.”
Another man called 911 and said, "I saw it go really low over my house and then it just started circling and went straight down.”
Officials say the plane came across a cemetery and some woods and most of the wreckage appears to be on a softball field. No one on the ground was injured.
Elmore James lives directly accross from the park. He heard the crash and saw the flames. James and his brother Dylan ran over after calling 911 to try to find any survivors.
“Not knowing how many people could have been on the plane, whether it was large or small, you had no clue. All you had was ruble. So, at that point, what we did was try to look for people. We couldn’t find anyone," he said.
Dylan James said,“When you get up close, you see papers all over the place. I ran across a seat from the plane.”
He snapped a few pictures that show flames and some of the wreckage.
“We didn’t know what we might walk up onto, but at the same time, just trying to see if there was anybody that could be helped," he said.
Neighbors said they believe Gamble was looking for an open area to land or crash the plane to avoid hitting homes and other buildings.
“I think he did a beautiful job and doing what he did protected the neighborhood. Also, he gave his life, but he saved a lot of lives," said Willie Cameron.
Ann Byrd lives directly across the street from the park.
“He must have been very compassionate to not to want to hurt nobody else," she said.
“I’m really sorry that he lost his life, but I believe in my heart he was trying to save other people.”
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are investigating.
Late Wednesday afternoon the NTSB said a report will be ready in 10 days with the basic facts of what happened. The agency hopes to have the wreckage cleared by the end of Thursday.
Police said Gamble's family is requesting privacy at this time.
LabCorp released a statement Wednesday night, saying, "This is a tragedy for the whole LabCorp family. Our hearts are heavy today, and we are grieving along with the family and friends of this valued employee. We are reaching out to the family to offer our support, and will continue to do so.We are cooperating with authorities to fully understand what occurred. We will keep the public and media informed as we learn more details."