updated 8/7/2007 1:05:55 AM ET 2007-08-07T05:05:55

A small plane believed to have four people on board crashed Monday near the picturesque downtown of Sitka, destroying an unoccupied house, authorities said.

Police said the likelihood of survivors was slim, but no one on the ground was reported injured.

The owner of the home, Tess Heyburn, followed others running toward the crash. She had been sitting in a restaurant when the plane went down. "At first there wasn't much smoke. Then it erupted into smoke and flames," she said. "I think plane just sailed through the house."

Another witness said the crash site barely missed a busy street where tourists off a cruise ship were shopping.

"One block to the south and there would have been numerous casualties," said Jane Hoerner, of Bismarck, N.D., said. There were no reports of injuries on the ground, fire officials said.

Jim La Belle, the National Transportation Safety Board's regional director for Alaska, said reports identified the plane as a Piper Meridian turboprop.

He said the plane departed Victoria, British Columbia, on Monday and was heading to the Sitka airport when it went down. La Belle said authorities were trying to determine who owned the plane.

The small plane hit a house situated in a wooded area just outside of downtown Sitka.

"It was one of the loudest pops I've ever heard," Hoerner said.

Last month, five people died in a small plane crash near Ketchikan, also in southeast Alaska. The pilot and four sightseers were killed in the mountains of Misty Fiords National Monument.

Sitka, with a population of nearly 9,000, is located about 90 miles south of Juneau. Heyburn said several people have already reached out to help her as she recovers from the loss of her home.

For now, she's thankful she wasn't there.

"Right now I'm pretty much looking at it like a miracle," the 49-year-old massage therapist said.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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