Originally created 05/05/04

Small plane crashes in downtown Atlanta



ATLANTA - A small plane with two people aboard crashed during a rainstorm into an auto-body shop about 40 yards from the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr. in downtown Atlanta. The two people in the plane were killed, but no one in the building was injured, authorities said.

The twin-engine Beechcraft 55 plane crashed at 10:55 a.m., said FAA spokesman Christopher White. He said the plane had taken off from the DeKalb-Peachtree Airport in Atlanta and was headed to Venice, Fla.

Witnesses said the plane spun out of control and hit the one-story auto-body shop.

"It was tumbling straight down," said Malcolm Okosun, who witnessed the crash while working on a construction project about a block from the crash.

Okosun said he heard a loud noise and ran outside and looked up to see the out-of-control plane. He said he watched as the plane hit the front of the building in a "straight-down nose dive."

Authorities said no one on the ground was injured. "There were only a few people in the building, and they did not require medical assistance," said Sandra Walker, Atlanta Fire Department spokeswoman.

The plane came to a stop in the building's parking lot and burst into flames. Parts of the building were charred from the resulting fire, but there was not apparent structural damage.

The fire was quickly extinguished, said Bill May, spokesman for the Atlanta Fire Department.

A rain storm was moving through the city at the time of the crash. "It looked like there was some pretty heavy wind," said Chris Spanovic, who watched the plane go down from two blocks away. "We saw it disappear behind the building and then there was a large plume of smoke."

The plane is registered to J&R Aircraft Inc. of Nokomis, Fla. White said he did not know if there was a distress call from the plane before the crash.

The crash occurred in the historic Sweet Auburn neighborhood of Atlanta, where King grew up and preached at Ebenezer Baptist Church - only a few blocks from the crash site.

The neighborhood, which dubs itself as the cradle of the civil rights movement, includes old warehouses that have converted into loft apartments and businesses. Parts of the area has fallen into decline over the years and some of the buildings are beyond disrepair or abandoned.

The building hit by the plane was near several beauty salons, a coffee shop, a pizza place and some small retailers.