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Five die in massive fireball as private jet plunges into housing estate

Five people were killed after a private aircraft crashed into two homes near a Kent airfield yesterday.

The Cessna Citation plane, carrying two pilots and three passengers, came down in Farnborough, near Biggin Hill airfield, after issuing a mayday call reporting engine trouble. One house was destroyed, as the crash caused a huge explosion and fireball.

A man named as John said he was piloting another plane when he heard a mayday call on the radio. "I was on final approach about 30 seconds from touchdown at Biggin Hill and I heard the pilot in the other plane declare mayday," he said. "They were experiencing some aircraft vibration in the engines.

"Biggin Hill Tower acknowledged the mayday and the pilot reported five people on board. As I turned off the runway I looked back and saw the plane nosedive. The radio went dead and all the black smoke came up."

Lucy Hone, a local resident, said: "Everybody has been saying for years how low it is they come across and how easy it would be for them to hit one of the houses, which has now happened.

"The plane was very, very low. I thought it was going to hit the house right in front of us. The planes are very low coming over here but I have never seen anything like that. There were a lot of people running round screaming for their children. It was horrible."

The owners of the destroyed house, a four-bedroom detached residence in Romsey Close, were reported to be on holiday abroad. They were named as Edward and Patricia Harman. The garage of a house next door was also destroyed.

Christine Diamond, who lives near the scene of the crash, said Mrs Harman was due back from a break to Madeira with her daughter yesterday while Mr Harman was due back from a golfing holiday in Portugal today. She said: "They are going to be absolutely devastated by this, but I'm just so glad that they weren't inside at the time. "I heard a loud bang and saw flames reflecting in the window. I came out of the house and my husband went to Pat and Ed's house but thankfully they were away."

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said a call was received just before 2.40pm reporting that a private aircraft had crashed into residential properties.

The ambulance service sent eight vehicles and the fire brigade sent up to 30 vehicles including four search-and-rescue units. A police spokesman said several people on the ground suffered minor injuries.

Karl Mills, who lives just across the road from the crash, said: "It nearly hit my house. I thought it was going to hit us. It was the loudest noise I have ever heard. All I could see was a big ball of fire and smoke coming from the house."

John Waite, who lives a quarter-of-a-mile from the crash site, said: "I was just sitting in the garden and I heard this very loud engine noise. There was black smoke which was pouring out for about five minutes after the crash."

An air traffic controller, who did not wish to be identified, said the Cessna Citation plane was en route to France when the crash happened. He said: "There could be a million and one reasons why it crashed. It would be wrong to speculate. That will all come out after the investigation."

He said Cessna Citations, which have a maximum cruising height of about 35,000ft, were usually used in the UK for short journeys to destinations such as France, the Mediterranean and the coast of north Africa.

A spokesperson from the Department of Transport said the Air Accident Investigation Branch had launched a full investigation into the crash.