IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Three killed when small plane crashes in busy area of San Antonio

"As tragic as it is, it could have been much worse," the fire chief said. No injuries were reported on the ground.

Three people were killed Sunday evening when a single-engine plane crashed yards from a house in San Antonio, Texas, somehow missing homes and motorists in a busy part of town, authorities said.

The plane, a Piper PA 24 Comanche able to seat four people, took off from Sugar Land Regional Airport, near Houston, and was approaching its destination of Boerne, northeast of San Antonio, when it radioed that it was in trouble, San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood told reporters.

The pilot was told to divert to San Antonio International Airport, but the plane fell about a mile short and crashed into a busy commercial area shortly before 6:30 p.m., Hood said.

Emergency crews found half the wreckage on a sidewalk and half in the street in front of a house, Hood said. All three victims, two men and a woman, were aboard the plane; no injuries on the ground were reported.

"As you can imagine, we're very fortunate," he said. "This plane could have dropped on [U.S. Highway] 281. It could have dropped on an apartment complex. As tragic as it is, it could have been much worse."

Hood said crews were searching a 20-block area around the scene to make sure nothing fell off the plane.

The Federal Aviation Administration said it was sending investigators. The investigation will be coordinated by the National Transportation Safety Board, it said.

Download the NBC News app for breaking news

Sheila Cleckler, who lives nearby, told NBC affiliate WOAI of San Antonio that she saw the plane just outside her home.

While it's common to see low-flying planes so close to the airport, the plane that crashed Sunday appeared to be flying lower than usual, Cleckler said, adding, "It just happened so quickly."

"I saw the plane come over, and it just took a nosedive and crashed," Cleckler told the station.

"It made like a little whirly sound," she said. "They were asking me if it sounded like it hit anything, and besides the ground, I couldn't hear anything. But it made a whoosh sound when it was diving."