Residents described how they saw the pilot of the four-seater, twin-engined plane struggling with the controls as it came down in flames near Andover in Hampshire.
The American-made Beech 95-58 TC Baron had taken off from Thruxton aerodrome, Hampshire, on a pleasure trip to Deauville in northern France.
The pilot, a London businessman in his forties, had contacted the Thruxton control tower to say he was returning to land because a door was open. He was accompanied by his wife, a French linguist, and two friends.
Eyewitnesses believed the pilot tried to steer the stricken aircraft away from the houses. It crashed just 50 yards from houses and the wreckage was described by ambulancemen as "just a pile of ashes".One ambulanceman later said that the bodies were so badly burnt that identification proved difficult.
Chief Inspector Frank Connor, of Andover police, said: "We do not know if the pilot was trying to avoid the houses but if he did then he is a hero."
Brian Preston, director of the Remoteassist company of Salisbury, Wiltshire, which owned the aircraft, said the pilot had been flying the plane for more than two years.
He said the aircraft received a certificate of airworthiness a month ago and went on a training flight on Thursday evening.
Mr Preston added: "As far we know there was nothing wrong with the plane at all. It is not unusual for a pilot to return to the airport if the door is discovered to be open, because it is impossible to shut them in flight. But there is no reason why a plane should crash just because the door is open."
Representatives from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch visited the scene and will publish a report on the crash.Reuse content