Delaware, Ohio, city councilman James Moore, 66, was piloting a rented aircraft Wednesday when it hit a tree and crashed into a soybean field near the city's airport, The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch reported.
Moore, the city's airport commissioner, had not mentioned any problems when he contacted the airport's control tower about his intended landing, police said.
A witness said he noticed what he thought were "white bags" on fire in the field and ran toward what turned out to be the burning plane.
"The pilot was in there, and he obviously was not going to get out on his own," Scott Woodruff said.
Woodruff and passers-by with fire extinguishers tried to help but the fire was so hot they could not get within 100 feet and were not able to use the extinguishers, he said
Moore, first elected to the city council in 1999, was an ardent backer of the city's airport, promoting its potential to lure corporations and jobs to the community, the Dispatch reported.
2014: The Year in Music [PHOTOS]