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Four dead after small plane crashes on Atlanta-area interstate

Drivers tried to help crash victims, but a fire consumed the wreckage, closing down the highway in both directions Friday morning.

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Police look toward the wreckage of a plane crash on Interstate 285, Friday, May 8, 2015, in Doraville, Ga.

David Goldman/AP

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A small passenger airplane crashed into an Atlanta interstate Friday, killing all four people aboard and starting an intense fire on the busy road, authorities said.

The Piper PA-32 took off from DeKalb Peachtree Airport and apparently ran into trouble not long afterward, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Kathleen Bergen said.

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Motorist Don McGhee, 48, said he saw the aircraft nearly hit a traffic light pole near the highway onramp.

"It looked like it was struggling. You could see him trying to get the nose of the plane up. It was edging up, and then it just dropped," McGhee said. "It was just a huge fire, just smoke and fire."

Witnesses said the blaze prevented anyone on the ground from helping any victims in the wreckage.

DeKalb Fire Capt. Eric Jackson said all four people onboard died in the crash, though authorities did not immediately release the names of the victims. The plane nearly struck a vehicle driven by a former DeKalb County firefighter and a truck.

"It's a miracle, literally a miracle, that no other cars were hit," Jackson told reporters.

The tail, other wreckage and charred concrete could be seen at the median barrier where the plane crashed. Smaller debris littered the area, including a propeller lying on the roadway about 40 feet from most of the wreckage.

Emergency officials shut down Interstate 285 in both directions, causing large traffic jams. Jackson said the scene of the crash must be preserved so investigators can determine what happened.

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This small plane crash comes just over one month after longtime actor Harrison Ford was injured crash-landing his vintage single-seat airplane on a southern California golf course, as reported in the Monitor. No one else was hurt in that accident.

The 72-year-old "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" actor is an aviation enthusiast who often flies out of the Santa Monica Airport. Penmar Golf Course, where the crash happened, is just west of a runway there.

In a communication with Santa Monica's air traffic control tower at 2:21 p.m., the pilot cites engine failure and says he is making an "immediate return," according to a recording posted by the website LiveATC.net.

Shortly after, witnesses reported seeing the aircraft plunge to the ground.

Ford got his pilot's license in the late 1980s and has served as a spokesman to various airline associations. In 2009, he stepped down as chairman of a youth program for the Experimental Aircraft Association.

His flying made headlines in 2001 when he rescued a missing Boy Scout in his helicopter. Nearly a year before, he rescued an ailing mountain climber in Jackson, Wyoming.

The actor has said his rescues "had nothing to do with heroism."

"It had to do with flying a helicopter. That's all," he said.

Ford also has volunteered his services during forest-fire season, when rescue helicopter are busy fighting blazes.