Two people were killed Sunday afternoon when a small airplane crashed in a field near the Brandywine Airport in Chester County.

Authorities said the plane, a Piper PA28 Cherokee, crashed about 1:34 p.m. in West Goshen Township, less than two miles from the airport. Emergency crews at the crash site said the plane was in flames.

The victims, both men, were not identified.

The fixed-wing, single-engine plane had just taken off from the airport and crossed over Route 202 before crashing near the 1000 block of Saunders Lane, police said.

The crash happened in a wooded area separating two residences and the Harrison Hills Apartments, a new over-55 complex. Investigators combed the charred debris, which was about 75 yards from the apartments.

There were no initial reports on why the plane crashed. A Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman said the accident was still under investigation. Weather conditions were clear at the time of the crash.

Frank Kraus, who moved into the Harrison Hills complex two months ago, said he heard a "big bang." But he could not see wreckage; his apartment does not face the field.

Kraus, 59, was shaken by how close the plane came to the apartments.

"Very close," he said. "Thank God for the pilot, but then the pilot and his passenger didn't make it. It's sad."

A neighbor on Saunders Lane said he saw smoke and fire coming from the field for a time but heard nothing.

Others reported that the plane started to sputter, then took a nosedive into the field, emergency services personnel said. The owners of the land where the plane crashed declined to be interviewed on Sunday.

The field was a rare open space in an area filled with houses and office parks.

The National Transportation Safety Board will arrive Monday to begin the crash investigation.

Sunday's deaths were not the first Brandywine Airport fatalities. In 2005, a pilot flying a Piper Saratoga II and his passenger were killed attempting to land near the airport.

About 60,000 planes take off and land at Brandywine every year, an airport official said. The official, who declined to be identified, was distraught hours after the crash. He said he often flies.

"But," he said, "this will keep me out of the air for a few days."

At 5:48 p.m., the Chester County coroner departed Saunders Lane as the sound of a plane filled the sky.

mgelb@philly.com

215-854-2928

@MattGelb