NBC, msnbc.com and news services
updated 11/22/2011 4:55:37 AM ET 2011-11-22T09:55:37

Authorities hunted Monday night for the pilot and possible occupants of a twin-engine plane carrying a large amount of marijuana that skidded off a runway at an airport west of Houston.

John Kremmer, chief deputy of the Waller County Sheriff's Department, told The Associated Press the small plane had a broken or missing nose gear, which caused it to slide onto the grass along the runway at Houston Executive Airport in Brookshire.

When law enforcement officers arrived at the scene shortly after the incident around 7 p.m. local time, they found a large amount of marijuana inside the abandoned aircraft, Kremmer said.

"You could certainly classify it as a lot more than just personal use," Kremmer said.

Witnesses saw the shadows of a person or people running from the aircraft, but it was unclear how many were aboard, Kremmer said. The plane is registered to an owner in La Vernia, Texas, and it hadn't been reported stolen, he said.

"We have no idea who the pilot was or where it came from," Kremmer said.

Citing police, NBC News reported that "several large bundles" were found on the aircraft following the "unexpected hard landing."

Andrew Perry, the airport's executive director, said the airport operates without an air traffic controller, and officials had no information the plane was expected to land there.

The Federal Aviation Administration and Department of Homeland Security were assisting local authorities in the investigation, Kremmer said. Kremmer said there had been no other similar incidents involving drugs reported at the small airport.

According to its website, Houston Executive Airport is a private development that aims to "cater to business and general aviation aircraft." Its first planes landed there in 2006, and it opened to the public in January 2007.

NBC News, The Associated Press and msnbc.com staff contributed to this report.


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