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Firefighters spray water onto an airplane after it crashed between industrial buildings and the Hayward Executive Airport on Wednesday September 15, 2009 in Hayward, Calif. (Aric Crabb/Staff)

HAYWARD — An airplane that clipped a building and crashed immediately after takeoff from Hayward Executive Airport was "a potential catastrophe," fire officials said, but by good fortune, the pilot walked away unscathed as the Beechcraft burned to a blackened hull.

While the twin turboprop plane can carry up to nine passengers, the pilot had just started a solo flight from the airport about 12:25 p.m. when something went wrong.

"He said the plane started veering to the left, he tried to pull out, but it continued to drift left," Hayward fire Capt. Thor Poulsen said. "He did not know why."

Federal Aviation Administration officials investigating the cause of the crash said a preliminary report would be available sometime today.

Deputy Fire Chief Mark Bennett said he's seen a number of crashes at the airport over the years, but "we escaped a pretty big deal here."

"If that plane would have went into the roof of the building, we would have had a potential catastrophe," he said.

The building is used to store records, Bennett said, and was occupied at the time of the crash. Employees were evacuated and a strong smell of fuel permeated the building. The side of the structure had what appeared to be a black skid and scorch marks.

Jason McFall, who works at an airport-based company, said the crash sparked a fireball that shot 70 feet high and blackened a wide swath of field area. Firefighters who witnessed the crash were incredulous that the pilot — who has not been identified but told officials he'd been flying for 20 years — walked away.


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The plane came to rest not far from a second building, on top of railroad tracks. The fuselage was scorched, nose clipped off and a wrecked engine sat among melted globs of glass that once were windows.

"These things get pretty hot," Poulsen said. "It's high-octane fuel "... there were 200 gallons of it. It makes it extremely difficult to put out."

Using special foam, firefighters arrived and knocked down the initial blaze within 10 minutes. Not knowing the pilot walked away, they used a Jaws of Life device to tear into the airplane to search for occupants, Poulsen said.

The crash sparked a grass fire along a strip of adjacent land.

Runway 28-Left at the airport was closed for part of the day, FAA Communication Manager Ian Gregor said.

The airplane, a Beechcraft King Air B200, was en route to San Carlos and is owned by Henry Broadcasting Nevada, with an address in San Francisco.