SALT LAKE CITY — A Skywest commuter plane collided with a private airplane over a Salt Lake City suburb this afternoon in high winds, scattering bodies and wreckage over a six-block residential area, authorities said.
At least 16 people were killed, officials said, and the toll could be as many as 26.
Winds up to 60 m.p.h. were whipping through the area shortly after the time of the crash.
"At this time we believe a four-passenger private plane and a commuter 16-passenger plane apparently collided," said Salt Lake County Sheriff's Department chief dispatcher David Marks.
But spokesman Arnold Scott of the National Transportation Safety Board's field office in Denver said the Skywest plane is believed to have been carrying 19 people. It was not immediately known how many people were aboard the smaller plane.
'Bodies All Over'
County Fire Marshal Frank Brown said firefighters saw the twin-engine prop jet and the blue-and-white Mooney collide near Airport No. 2 in suburban Kearns. He said "we're picking (bodies) up all over."
"I saw the fuselage of the airliner kind of floating down from the sky. As we approached the fuselage, we saw the bodies of what appeared to be two boys in the wreckage," said Darwin Smith, a Kearns resident.
One witness reported debris was "raining down" in the area of residential homes and small farm fields.
The commuter plane was Skywest Flight 834 inbound from Pocatello, Ida., to Salt Lake International Airport, 10 miles north of the crash site, said Dick Meyer of the Federal Aviation Administration in Seattle. He said the passenger plane can carry 18 passengers and two crew members but he did not know how many were aboard.
Sheriff's Lt. Bill A. Van Wagenen said a temporary morgue and command post were set up at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church.
He called the fatalities "numerous" and scattered over a square-mile area. He said officers were still locating bodies and the medical examiner was on his way to begin identifying them.
At St. Francis Xavier, parts of bodies fell in the parking lot and on the steps of a nearby church-run school.
'Bodies Here and There'
About 30 firefighters in nine trucks rushed to the crash site about 15 miles southwest of downtown Salt Lake City. Authorities said there were no fires.
Meyer said investigators from the FAA and National Transportation Safety Board are also hurrying to the scene.
"They are picking up bodies here and there, whenever people call us to report them," Brown said.
The tail sections of two planes were located amid the debris that was scattered over a 1 1/2-mile area, Brown said. One large piece of wreckage was found embedded in a house, he added.
Marks said his office has received reports of debris in yards of homes in the area.
The accident occurred about 1 p.m. near an airport used primarily by light aircraft and sometimes by planes diverted from Salt Lake City International Airport.