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The charred remains of a Beechcraft King Air plane were visible through the trees behind Maxime Marois's home. ((Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press))

The failure of one engine alone could not have caused the crash of a small plane near Quebec City's Jean-Lesage Airport that killed all seven people on board, say Transportation Safety Board officials

Authorities at the international airport said the pilot contacted the control tower shortly after takeoff at 6 a.m. ET on Wednesday to report engine trouble.

The chartered, twin-engine Beechcraft King Air plane crashed moments later in a field about two kilometres northwest of the airport and burst into flames, airport spokesman Jimmy Gagné said. 

'I really don't understand what happened. I've had twin-engine failures at takeoff, and you can still fly on one motor.' —Jacques Pailleur, Aéropro vice-president

The five passengers and two crew members on board were killed.

On a recording of the radio call obtained by the website LiveATC.net, the pilot can be heard telling the control tower that he is having a problem with the right engine and will return for a landing.

"Do you need emergency services?" the control tower responds.

"Affirmative," says the pilot. "We can't climb."

A short while later emergency officials can be heard on the ground.

"It is outside the airport. The plane had problems," says one man. "There is a ball of fire."

Little left of plane

Transportation Safety Board officials are now going over the scene of the crash.

"We understand this is a very difficult situation for the families, and our thoughts go out to them," Gagné told reporters at the airport.

The federal agency has sent a team of three investigators to document the crash. Lead investigator André Turenne said it was too soon to speculate about the cause.

"We're puzzled [about] how he got in that condition," said Turenne. "That kind of airplane can fly with one engine."

The scope of the work is being complicated by what little remains of the plane — the two engines, rudder and elevators, tail section, one wing-tip and a badly burned frame.

Representatives from Pratt and Whitney, the makers of the plane's engines are also on site for the investigation.

In a rare move, they will be joined by investigators from the American National Transportation Safety Board on Thursday, because the plane was manufactured in the U.S.

Experienced pilot

The aircraft, operated by Quebec City-based company Aéropro, was en route to Sept-Îles and Natashquan.

The pilot, who was from the Quebec City region, was experienced flying similar aircraft, said Jacques Pailleur, vice-president of Aéropro.

"I really don't understand what happened," said Pailleur, who is also a pilot. "I've had twin-engine failures at takeoff, and you can still fly on one motor.

"We can hypothesize about what happened, but we will wait for investigators to report."

Quebec Premier Jean Charest expressed his condolences to the families of the victims on Wednesday.

"I think of the seven families who are grieving the death of a loved one that has happened suddenly, without warning," he said.

One of the victims has been identified as Normand Tremblay, 49, from Saint-Ambroise, Que.

An employee of the firm Cegerco, Tremblay was headed to the community of Natashquan, in the province's North Shore region, where he was supervising the construction of a school.

At a news conference on Wednesday, the company's president, Jeannot Harvey, expressed his condolences to Tremblay's family.

Officials declined to release the names of the other victims, saying some of their families have not yet been notified.

Nearby residents woken by explosion

The plane hit the ground about 30 metres from Maxime Marois's home near Notre-Dame Street in Sainte-Foy, a borough on the outskirts of Quebec City.

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The plane crash happened about five kilometres northwest of the Jean-Lesage Airport. ((CBC))

Marois was woken up by a loud boom that sounded like "lightning struck the ground," he told Radio-Canada, the CBC's French-language service.

He said he knew something was wrong when he heard a second explosion moments later. When he went outside, Marois said he saw the downed plane and flames.

Another nearby resident, Denis Guay, said he was sleeping with the windows open when he heard the plane. "Then, boom!" he said. "It was like a little earthquake."

Guay said he stepped outside and saw a huge ball of fire and thick smoke.

The Jean-Lesage airport is about 20 kilometres from Quebec City.