TAYLORVILLE, Ill. (AP) -- Federal investigators and a witness say a small plane crashed in central Illinois moments after a group of skydivers jumped from the aircraft.
The pilot, 30-year-old Brandon Sparrow, was the only person left on board and was killed.
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Tony Molinaro says the twin-engine Beechcraft 18 crashed near houses in the city of Taylorville and was destroyed.
Resident Gloria Johnson saw the aircraft came down in her neighbor's back yard, slammed into a tree and shattered. She says one of the skydivers raced to the scene after he landed and told police eight people had parachuted safely from the aircraft.
She says there was no explosion or fire upon impact and that authorities on the scene believed the pilot knew he was in trouble and dumped his fuel.
Witnesses and police officials called Sparrow a "hero" for preventing other casualties in the crash.
"This is a tragedy for the Sparrow family and the community of Taylorville," said Amy Calvert-Winans, Christian County coroner.
An autopsy has been scheduled for Monday in Bloomington, Illinois.