LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- A rented plane flying a South Carolina family of five to a Thanksgiving vacation crashed Wednesday in a parking lot at Walt Disney World, killing three people and injuring two small children.
Witnesses said the single-engine plane hit a light pole in the parking lot at Disney's Epcot Center and skimmed across a dozen unoccupied vehicles before coming to rest on top of a car.
'It looked like he was trying to land and he had a lot of trouble with it,' said one eye-witness. 'It looked like he went up to miss the monorail beam, and then I lost sight of him.'
The plane crashed about 200 yards from the monorail track that transports guests around the sprawling Disney property and about a half-mile from Spaceship Earth, the giant silver sphere at the park's entrance.
No one on the ground was injured.
A Federal Aviation Administration spokesman in Atlanta said the Piper aircraft was en route to Kissimmee -- less than 10 miles from Disney World -- when it crashed shortly before 12:30 p.m. EST.
Killed were Gary Newell, 30, of Simpsonville, S.C., his wife, Dorine, 30, and their 1 -year-old daughter, Stephanie. Two other Newell children, Curtis, 5, and Jessica, 3, were in critical condition at Orlando Regional Medical Center.
'They were on a vacation trip to Disney World,' said Curtis O'Neal, who worked for Newell at his swimming pool construction company in Greenville. 'He said he was renting a plane to go down for the weekend. This was their first trip to Disney World.'
O'Neal said Newell had flown before, but he did not know how often.
Ray Allen of the Greenville Aviation Flight School, which leased the plane to Newell, said Newell got his pilot's license in July and had made several long-distance flights.
Disney officials estimated there were 40,000 people visiting Epcot Center and the nearby Magic Kingdom when the plane crashed.
'We're very fortunate there wasn't somebody there at the time of the crash,' said Disney spokesman Dick Sheffield.
Skies were cloudy and light rain was reported in the area, but officials did not know if the weather was a factor in the accident.
A rescue pilot who flew over the scene said the plane narrowly missed a safe landing.
'As the airplane shot its approach, it apparently flew over an area where there were a large number of cars parked and appeared to be heading for a part of the parking lot that was empty,' said Sgt. Dennis Emerson of the Orange County Sheriff's Department, who was piloting a rescue helicopter.
'On the way, it struck a large parking lot light pole ... with the right wing, tore the right wing off the plane and the airplane just spun in on the parked cars.'
The National Transportation Safety Board dispatched an investigator to the scene of the crash.
Epcot Center, which was opened two years ago, features a futuristic look at the world and has an international section with exhibits from around the world.