updated 5/23/2008 3:01:11 PM ET 2008-05-23T19:01:11

A small airplane carrying mail crashed into a building early Friday in a fiery explosion, killing the pilot, officials said. No one on the ground was injured.

The plane had just taken off from Billings Logan International Airport when it crashed into a construction materials building at 1:25 a.m., Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Mike Fergus said.

“I just watched the light come out of the sky,” witness Mike Krause told The Billings Gazette. “To me it looked like the plane was upside down. And then it just came straight down into the lot.”

The plane appeared to hit the ground in the lot of a rental business and skid into the construction materials building, witnesses said.

Duane Demars, who lives nearby, said he heard two loud explosions and four smaller ones.

“It sounded excruciating,” he said. “When I got here, flames were at a length of 200 to 300 feet and 20 feet high in the air.”

The construction materials building and plane were destroyed by the blaze, and a nearby United Rentals building was damaged by debris, Fergus said.

No indication of trouble
Fire officials confirmed the pilot’s body was found in the wreckage. A representative of the company that operated the flight, Alpine Air Express, identified the pilot as Kelly Lynch of Billings.

Minutes before the crash, Lynch had talked air traffic controllers by radio to go over his flight path and there was no indication that there was anything wrong at that time, Fergus said.

Alpine Air confirmed the plane was carrying mail bound for Great Falls and Havre.

Mail scattered as far as two miles away, Postal Service spokeswoman Lisa Blomquist said. Workers were gathering what remained of more than 4,000 pounds of mail loaded on the plane.

“It looks like a good bit of it was destroyed,” said spokesman Al DeSarro in Denver. “We’re going to do our best to try to salvage, recover as much of it as we can.”

Airport fire chief Michael Glancy said at least 300 gallons of jet fuel spilled in the crash, creating puddles that caught fire.

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