At least three people were killed after two small aircraft collided mid-air near a small airport just outside of McKinney Saturday evening.
The aircraft collided near Aero Country Airport in unincorporated Collin County before crashing in a commercial area of McKinney shortly before 5:30 p.m.
Authorities did not say late Saturday whether all of the victims killed were on the planes or if any were on the ground. Their names were not released.
One plane crashed at a storage facility at Custer Road and Virginia Parkway. The other crashed on the southbound lanes of Custer Road near Virginia Parkway.
McKinney Police Sgt. Ana Shelley said police and fire responded to the crash at 5:27 p.m. The Federal Aviation Administration, which is at the scene, and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating.
Custer Road is expected to remain closed from Bristol Drive to Virginia Parkway until further notice. Authorities are asking the public to stay away from the crash scene, which Shelley described as “widespread.” Dozens of emergency vehicles were there late Saturday.
“They’ve got a lot to do out there,” Shelley said.
The Aero Country Airport does not have an air traffic control tower, and pilots are required to announce landings and takeoffs via radio, FAA spokesman Lynn Lunsford said in an email.
Alex Coats, 17, was watching one of the aircraft in flight Saturday evening as a passenger in a friend’s car.
“I was just watching the Cessna fly and another plane came out of nowhere and hit the Cessna,” said Coats, a McKinney High School student who is in the school’s aviation program.
After the aircraft collided, “They both went down in opposite directions,” Coats said.
“I was trying to figure out what happened.”
Coats said he was at the scene of the crashes before first responders.
He said he tried calling 911 but the lines were busy.
The plane at the storage unit struck a boat and caught fire. That’s where most of the smoke came from, he said.
He said he saw two bodies in the aircraft that crashed on Custer Road before authorities covered the wreckage.
Caleb Twitchell, 19, was hanging out with friends in a nearby neighborhood when he saw the two planes crash. “It was like a movie,” he said. “It was crazy actually. It was awful.”
He said the tail end broke off one plane and it spiraled to the ground. The other plane veered off before crashing into the storage facility, he said.
In a statement late Saturday, McKinney Mayor Brian Loughmiller said “we are devastated over the tragic plane crash that happened this evening near Aero Country Airport. Our condolences go out to the families of those who were involved and we will keep them in our thoughts and prayers in the coming days.”
When Aero Country Airport opened in the late 1970s, most of the tracts around it were farmland.
“There was a dirt road,” said BJ Boyle, treasurer of the property owners association, told The Dallas Morning News in 2014. “There was nobody.”
Though Aero Country is privately owned, it’s a public-use facility, meaning that anyone can use its landing strip. Pilots can fuel up or seek maintenance on site.
The airport sits on unincorporated land in Collin County, though some neighbors are part of McKinney. Homes have popped up just east and south of the property, and an industrial area borders the airport to the north.
One subdivision east of the airport called Virginia Hills is separated by a piece of land 500 feet wide.
Since opening, Aero Country has reported two fatalities, government records show. In 1997, a pilot died of severe burns after losing control of his plane, which crashed into a line of trees. And in 1983, a passenger died of a fatal head injury after exiting the plane while the engine was still running and walking into the arc of a propeller.
Rodney Livermore lives just three houses away from the airport’s runway and loves watching the planes take off and land. He was with his family at the Virginia Hills neighborhood playground when the two planes collided. He said he was in “complete disbelief.”
“It was so unbelievable to see these two planes fall out of the air,” he said.
“It was so scary. My stomach is still in knots” more than three hours after the crash.
He said one plane lost its tail end and fell straight down onto Custer Road. The other plane seemed to maintain some control before it crashed into the storage unit business.
Livermore said just beyond the storage units were apartments and houses.
The thought of homes and businesses so close to the airport has always been in the back of his mind. But after Saturday’s crash, “I think it will be a bigger concern with me.”
His thoughts turned to the families of those on board both planes.
“We’re praying for them,” he said.