Fort Lauderdale police identify 3 killed in small plane crash

Police: Steven Waller, Wallis Watson, Kevin Watson killed in Friday's crash

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Authorities have identified three men killed when their small plane crashed into a parking lot near a South Florida airport.

Fort Lauderdale Police spokeswoman DeAnna Garcia said Saturday that the crash killed Steven Waller, 65, of Deerfield Beach, Wallis "Wally" Watson, 66, of Boca Raton and Kevin Watson, 30, of Pompano Beach. Waller was the pilot.

The cleanup at the crash site was underway Saturday as National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration investigators sifted for clues to a cause in and around the charred debris.

Authorities said the twin-engine Piper Cheyenne propeller plane began experiencing engine trouble and tried to make an emergency landing shortly after taking off from Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport.

The crash Friday afternoon set about a dozen vehicles ablaze, but no one on the ground was hurt.

According to the FAA, the plane departed Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport about 4:23 pm on Friday and crashed shortly afterward.

VIDEO: Airplane crash flames caught on camera

An NTSB spokesman told Local 10's Baron James that the pilot made the emergency call to the control tower about engine trouble eight minutes before the crash that spared lives on the ground, but killed the three men onboard.

Tracy Knowles, who owns R.J. Asset Recovery, said he was outside when the piper went down into his lot. 

"It just happened so fast. I heard the engines, turned around, and saw it come through the trees," said Knowles.

Fort Lauderdale spokesman Matt Little said the plane took off, banked right, and crashed into several parked vehicles. He believes the plane is Fort Lauderdale based.

Little said no one on the ground was injured.

WATCH: Cell phone video shows airplane blaze

The Watsons operate Avionics Engineering Firm at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport.

"The only silver lining in this thing is we didn't lose any lives on the ground. But three people perished and our thoughts and prayers go out to the families," said Seiler Ajxk. "But terrible scene back there."

The recordings from the pilots' emergency call, his experience, the plane's maintenance record and a possible mechanical malfunction, are part of the federal probe.

Investigators say they aren't ruling out anything at this point as to what brought down the small plane.

"Our goal today is to document the plane on site and get it moved to an off-site facility for further documentation, which will continue over the next couple days," said NTSB investigator Luke Schiada.

Fort Lauderdale officials reported the plane was a Cheyenne II twin-engine turboprop plane; the Federal Aviation Administration said it was a Piper PA-31 Navajo.

--A Piper PA-31 Navajo

Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport serves smaller planes.

A large plume of black smoke could be seen in the area. Several viewers sent pictures to show it.

Viewer photos of plane crash smoke

Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.