GARY | Two men died Wednesday following the crash of a small plane near a local school, officials said.
Personnel from the Gary police and fire departments, the Lake County coroner's office and Lake County Sheriff's Department were on the scene of the crash, which was reported to authorities about 11:20 a.m. The crash happened in a wooded area east of 7th Avenue and Clark Road, near the West Gary Lighthouse Charter School and Preparatory Academy and the city-owned Brunswick Center.
Two men were on board the Cirrus SR22, Gary Police Cmdr. Sean Jones said.
The Lake County Coroner's office cleared the scene just after 5:30 with the two men's bodies and were working to identify them. Their names were not officially available late Wednesday.
Gary Fire Chief Teresa Everett said the four-seat aircraft was en route to Gary after leaving Smyrna, Tenn., at 9:25 a.m. Wednesday. Gary fire personnel worked to extinguish flames after the crash and worked to contain the scene. The Gary/Chicago International Airport is located about two miles northwest of where the crash happened.
Gary Fire Capt. Don Parker said he encountered smoke and heavy flames after arriving on the crash site and that the wreckage was strewn around a 40-foot area. He said firefighters also had to battle a brush fire that started in the wooded area after the wreckage fire was put out.
Isaiah Woods and Devante Black, of Gary, live in the area and said the sound of the crash brought them near the crash because of how loud it was. While standing a few hundred yards away from the site, Woods said he could see heavy smoke coming out of the woods and several firefighters on the scene working to put out the fire.
"We heard it," Woods said. "At first we thought it was a (small) accident ... But you could see the smoke."
John Black with the Smyrna/Rutherford County Airport Authority told The Daily News Journal of Murfreesboro, Tenn., the plane arrived in Smyrna Tuesday night and left Wednesday morning. It did not originate in Smyrna.
The plane was due to arrive at the Gary Jet Center at 11:19 a.m., and no distress call was reported, Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said.
The downed plane is registered to Gandy Air LLC of St. Augustine, Fla., according to the FAA.
The FAA arrived on the scene of the crash Wednesday afternoon. Gary Police Chief Wade Ingram said the National Transportation Safety Board also is expected to investigate the matter Thursday.
Investigators wrapped up for the night as darkness fell. Gary Police stayed on scene overnight to preserve the crash site for investigators who are expected to resume work Thursday morning.
More than 50 people watched emergency personnel from Gary and Lake County investigate the matter Wednesday during the day.
Freeman-Wilson said there's proof of a "supreme being" in the world because Wednesday's accident could have been worse. Wreckage laid less than a quarter mile from West Gary Lighthouse Charter School and not far from the Thea Bowman Leadership Academy. Ingram said police told concerned parents who arrived on the scene after the crash that the children were not in danger Wednesday.
Kenneth McCants, elementary and middle school principal of West Gary Lighthouse Charter School, said several students and teachers in the school heard the noise from the crash, but remained in the building during the day. After speaking with personnel from the mayor's office, McCants said the school implemented its safety plan and decided to let students out before its normal Wednesday end time of 2 p.m.
McCants said several concerned parents called the school, but he said the school worked to provide the information it had about the incident.
The elementary and middle school and the high school have a combined 650 students.
There were no immediate reports of property damage in the incident.
– Times staff Bowdeya Tweh, Chelsea Schneider-Kirk, Keith Benman, Lindsay Machak, Brian Vernellis, John Watkins and Jon Hendricks contributed to this report.