Pilot dies in plane crash, fire near Essex County Airport

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WEST CALDWELL, N.J. — The pilot of a small plane was killed when his Cessna 206 crashed in a wooded area behind Kiddie Academy, a daycare center in West Caldwell.

He was the only person on board.

The plane went down around 10 a.m. Saturday, shortly after takeoff from Runway 22 at  Essex County Airport about a half a mile away, said authorities.

The 50-year-old pilot from New Jersey was on his way to Teterboro Airport to pick up a passenger when he started to have mechanical problems, according to Captain Gerard Paris with the West Caldwell Police Department.

“He experienced some sort of malfunction.  We don’t know clear what it was,” said Captain Paris. ”He ended up trying to turn back towards the airport, we believe, and he crashed in the field behind 810 Passaic Avenue.”

“This plane was just making this very sharp turn, and it just like dove into the ground.  As soon as it hit the ground, it exploded,” said Paul Digangi, who witnessed the crash with his friend Loriann Rella.

“The cockpit was completely engulfed,” Rella said.  “I even thought about going over, but we heard a couple of explosions, which I’m going to assume is the fuel.  You knew looking at it, there was nothing anyone could do.”

The National Transportation Safety Board and FAA are investigating the accident.

Ninety percent of the plane was consumed by flames, and what’s left of it, is expected to remain at the crash site until Sunday, said Captain Paris.

PIX11 News' Samantha Tata and Myles Miller contributed to this report.