updated 3/5/2008 6:33:46 PM ET 2008-03-05T23:33:46

A small jet carrying a former missionary, a church deacon and three businessmen crashed in a wooded area shortly after takeoff, killing all five people aboard.

The cause is under investigation, but some witnesses said it appeared a bird was sucked into one of the Cessna 500's engines before the airplane went out of control Tuesday afternoon and crashed about 5 miles from Wiley Post Airport in Oklahoma City.

A friend identified the pilot and co-pilot as Tim Hartman of Yukon and Rick Sandoval of Weatherford. Hartman was a deacon at the South Yukon Church of Christ, while Sandoval spent 10 years as a Church of Christ missionary in Brazil before returning with his family to his western Oklahoma hometown.

United Engines, an Oklahoma City-based distributor of diesel engines, identified three other victims as Garth C. Bates Jr., the company's president; Frank M. Pool Jr., the company's vice president; and Lloyd G. Austin.

"These men connected with everyone they came in contact with on a personal level, in a way that affected us all," the company said in a statement on its Web site.

Roland Herwig, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration, said the twin-engine aircraft had been on its way to Mankato, Minn. Witnesses said they saw birds in the area and thought that might have caused the crash.

"He flew right through a flock of birds," witness Greg Horton told television station KWTV. "A bird, after it sucked through, we heard it, a dead bird was floating and it landed right in the lake."

The pilot "was trying to recover and just took a nosedive right over here. I saw the fireball and everything," Horton said.

Valrie Pool, the wife of Frank Pool, told The Oklahoman that her husband and his associates were going to Minnesota on a business trip.

Taylor Cave, the outreach minister at Del City Church of Christ, knew Hartman and Sandoval. Cave and his wife joined Sandoval and his wife, Monika, and two other couples to form a mission team during their time at Oklahoma Christian University in the late 1980s.

Cave said the team went to Vitoria, Brazil, in November 1992. Sandoval's family returned to the U.S. in June 2002, Cave said. Since then, he said, Sandoval had opened a Quiznos franchise in Weatherford, had run a health club for a time and served as a commercial pilot.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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