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Fiery cargo jet crash kills 2 in Alabama

A UPS cargo plane slammed into a field and burst into flames near an Alabama airport Wednesday, killing the pilot and co-pilot and strewing debris for hundreds of yards, authorities said.

The plane, an Airbus A300, was en route from Louisville, Ky., when it crashed on approach to Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport, FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said.

The National Transportation Safety Board tweeted that it sent a "Go-Team" to investigate the cause of the crash. NTSB Board Member Robert Sumwalt said at a press conference in Washington, D.C., -- moments before leaving for Birmingham -- that he was optimistic the plane's data-recording "black boxes" would be recovered.

"The board has a very good success rate at being able to recover the recorders," Sumwalt said.

Birmingham Fire Chief Ivor Brooks said both crew members were pronounced dead at the scene. The pilot and co-pilot were the only people aboard the plane, company spokesman Jeff Wafford said.

The crash happened at about 5 a.m. local time on an overcast morning with occasional light rain.

The plane appears to have struck a massive tree north of the runway. The plane clipped some power lines, and much of the surrounding neighborhoods lost power.

Airport Hills resident Chris Evans, 60, told the Birmingham News that he heard the crash.

"At first I thought it was thunder," he said. "The power went off and I looked out the window and saw nothing but fire."

Evans said that he was grateful that the plane had not hit any homes. "We've been trying to get the airport to buy up the rest of these houses for years," he said.

"This incident is very unfortunate, and our thoughts and prayers are with those involved," UPS Airlines President Mitch Nichols said in a statement. "We place the utmost value on the safety of our employees, our customers and the public. We will immediately engaged with the National Transportation Safety Board's investigation, and we will work exhaustively on response efforts."

Birmingham Mayor William Bell told USA TODAY no one on the ground was injured, although debris was found on roofs and lawns of homes a half mile from the crash site.

"Debris is everywhere,'' Bell said. "It took tremendous effort by the men and women of the police and fire departments to put the fire out and take control of the scene."

Flight tracking site flightaware.com shows the cargo plane, identified by the site and the FAA as flight UPS1354, dropped more than 9,000 feet over the course of two minutes about four minutes before the crash.

The plane, with tail number N155UP, is listed by the FAA as an Airbus A300 F4-622R which was manufactured in 2004. Maintenance records or information on any previous incidents involving the plane were not immediately available.

Birmingham Airport Authority spokeswoman Toni Herrera-Bast said the crash hadn't affected airport operations.

UPS is the world's largest package delivery company and owns 235 jets, according to UPS spokeswoman Natalie Godwin. The company operates 949 flights in the USA and 982 international flights daily, serving 381 airports in the US and 346 internationally.

In 2012, UPS delivered 4.1 billion packages and documents worldwide, Godwin said. The company daily delivers an average of 16.3 million packages and documents, including 2.3 million that go by air.

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