Austin plane crash details emerge

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By Jim Carr By Jim Carr
By Jim Carr By Jim Carr
By Jim Carr By Jim Carr
By Jim Carr By Jim Carr

AUSTIN, Texas -- A small single-engine plane crashed into a building in Northwest Austin Thursday morning, sparking a fire. Federal officials told CNN that the pilot set fire to his house, then crashed the plane.

The building houses the Internal Revenue Service and federal investigators are looking into the possibility that the pilot was targeting the IRS.

The plane left the Georgetown Municipal Airport around 9:40 a.m.

Austin's police chief denied earlier reports that the plane was stolen.

The pilot did not file a flight plan.

Officials have confirmed that a man named Joe Stack, 53, owns the house that burned and also owns a small plane. He posted a lengthy note about his problems with the IRS on his Web site Thursday and ended it with 2/18/2010 as his date of death

Austin's police chief said he had no information on whether the pilot survived the crash or not.

The crash happened at the Echelon Complex near MoPac and Highway 183 a short time later. Many of the same fire crews who responded to the fire at the pilot's house were sent to the crash scene.

The worst damage appeared to be on the second and third stories of the building Thursday morning as fire crews using ladder trucks and hoses battled the fire.

Dozens of windows were blown out of the hulking black building and thick black smoke poured from it as vehicles traveling on a nearby highway paused to look at the damage.

"The ceiling caved in and windows blew in. We got up and ran," said Peggy Walker, an IRS worker who was sitting at her desk when the crash happened.

At least two people have been taken to area hospitals and at least one person is unaccounted for, according to the Austin Fire Department.

Firefighters rescued several people who were trapped .

"They were hanging out the windows, screaming for help," Cynthia Reed told CNN. She works in the building next door.

Firefighters are now inside the building working to bring the fire under control. The number of casualties could rise when they are able to search the building.

The building houses several federal offices, but officials say they don't believe this was an act of terrorism.

Two F-16 fighter jets were launched from Houston's Ellington Airport as a precaution after the crash, according to NORAD's Web site.

A witness said the plane didn't appear to be having any troubles before it crashed.

Matt Farney, who saw the plane near some apartments before it crashed, said he thought the pilot was showing off, buzzing the building. Farney called the scene "surreal," saying the ball of flames was as high as the apartments.

Sitting at her desk about a half-mile from the crash, Michelle Santibanez said she felt vibrations after the crash. She and her co-workers ran to the windows, where they saw a scene that reminded them of the 2001 terrorist attacks, she said.

"It was the same kind of scenario with window panels falling out and desks falling out and paperwork flying," said Santibanez, an accountant.

National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Peter Knudson said an investigator from the board’s Dallas office has been dispatched to the scene of the accident to start an investigation.

Streets around the building were closed and power was shut off to protect emergency crews.

We'll have more details as soon as they become available.

SOURCES: Associated Press and CNN