BOCA RATON, Fla. - A Lear jet and a smaller airplane collided and crashed into a gated, golf course community, killing the three people aboard the jet and the pilot of the second craft.
There were no injuries on the ground when the planes crashed as one heap and burned inside the country club community of Boca Grove, said Paul Miller, spokesman for the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Department. Smaller debris floated down, landing on roofs and in yards.
The Lear jet had just taken off from Boca Raton Executive Airport when it apparently hit the second aircraft, which may have been an experimental airplane, Miller said. Its pilot apparently tried unsuccessfully to parachute to the ground.
The larger plane ''looked like it split in half, the front half of the plane buckling underneath it and the thing basically dropped out of the sky like a rock,'' said Dean Kallan, who works in an office complex across the street.
Carlos Marrero, a pilot who had just landed at the airport, said the sight of the plane breaking apart ''made me sick to my stomach. There was nothing we could do but watch.''
Television reports showed firefighters spraying water on debris that appeared to have burned when it crashed into the housing complex. Witnesses said an engine landed within 25 feet of a three-story condominium.
The Lear 55, a twin-engine jet that can carry up to 13 people, is owned by Universal Jet Aviation Inc., a Boca Raton company, federal records show. A woman who answered the phone at the company said ''we're not making any statements right now.''
Rod Sirmeyer, a pool cleaner who was in the complex, said he heard the plane explode and then crash. He ran to the cockpit and tried to put out the fire with a hose while some maintenance workers also sprayed it with a fire extinguisher. Small explosions continued for several minutes, he said.
He said he did not see any bodies, but he was sure people had died.
''I just felt really sad for the people's families,'' Sirmeyer said.