WEST CALDWELL, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A pilot was killed when his small plane crashed shortly after taking off from a northern New Jersey airport, authorities said.

West Caldwell police say the crash occurred shortly after 10 a.m. Saturday, about a half-mile from the Essex County Airport in Fairfield.

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The 50-year-old pilot was the only person aboard the single-engine Cessna 206 when it came down in a wooded area and burst into flames, CBS2’s Matt Kozar reported.

“The second you saw the explosion, you knew what happened,” witness Max Bratman said. “There’s no way anyone walks away from that.”

Other witnesses described the scene.

“Immediately, I saw it turn and go down like it was crashing and I yelled, ‘oh my God,'” witness Paul DiGangi told WCBS 880’s Jim Smith. “It exploded, I ran into the shop to call 911.”

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“I looked over there, over across the street and I saw black smoke billowing up,” another witness named Jim told 1010 WINS’ Derricke Dennis. “Then I heard the explosions and I called the police.”

“It looked like it was making a turn and then it kind of nose-dived right into the ground,” witness Paul Digangi said. “As soon as it hit the ground, it exploded and then there were two more explosions after that.”

Police said the pilot was headed to Teterboro Airport to pick up another passenger. Authorities said the cause of the crash was not immediately known but initial reports suggest the pilot was experiencing some type of mechanical failure. The pilot’s name has not been released.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash.

“According to initial witness statements, it appears the aircraft may have lost engine power,” NTSB Air Safety Investigator Todd Gunther said. “We currently know that we have all four corners of the airplane on scene. That means it didn’t lose any parts in flight. And we do evidence of a post-impact fire.”

The crash caused some traffic delays in the area, as a stretch of Passaic Avenue was closed while the investigation was ongoing.

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