Two small planes collided over a wooded area in upstate New York, killing the pilots in a fiery wreck that scattered debris over a large swath of rural land, police and aviation officials said.
The single-engine planes, four-seat Pipers, crashed Monday afternoon in New Hampton, a hamlet about 60 miles north of New York City, as they headed back to New Jersey.
State police Capt. Joseph A. Tripodo said that when the planes collided they left substantial wreckage at two impact sites a couple of hundred yards apart.
"One plane burst into flames, one plane did not," he said.
Two pilots flew one plane from Sussex, N.J., to Orange County Airport and picked up another plane, Tripodo said. They took off from Orange County Airport about 2:40 p.m., heading back to Sussex, and crashed within about 15 minutes.
Area resident Rebekah Rochelle said she was in her vegetable garden when she happened to look up and saw two planes flying south.
"One clipped the other, clipped the wing is what it looked like from my angle," she said. "The one spiraled directly down, and the other was more at an angle over the hill."
She said she immediately ran inside for cover from the metal debris raining down and called 911.
Another witness said he heard an engine revving up just before he heard the crash.
"It sounded like two cans being crushed," Tom M. Boyle said.
As Boyle's fiancee called 911, he ran up to one of the planes and shouted "hello" to see if there were any survivors. There was no response.
The skies were clear with visibility of 10 miles and winds at 15 mph, with gusts up to 23 mph, National Weather Service meteorologist Lauren Nash said.
Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Arlene Salac confirmed two people were killed. Initial reports that one person was critically injured were unfounded. Because the bodies were found outside the planes, investigators don't know which plane each victim was in when they crashed.
Rescuers reached one plane quickly and could see the other from the air but had a difficult time getting to it because of the dense woods.
"The conditions in the woods are extremely difficult — muddy, thick forest, hard to traverse," Tripodo said.
The cause of the collision hadn't been determined. Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were en route Monday night, Tripodo said.
The identities of the dead weren't immediately confirmed.
One plane was registered to Edward J. Crump, from Boonton, N.J., and the other plane to Gary L. Delia, of Sussex, N.J. It isn't known if Crump and Delia were the victims or were even aboard the planes, Salac said. Calls to phone numbers listed at their home addresses went unanswered Monday afternoon.