BRUSSELS (AFP) - An American-owned Boeing 747 cargo plane crashed as it took off at Brussels airport on Sunday and broke apart, but the five-strong crew escaped without injury, airport officials said.
The jumbo jet came to rest at the end of the runway some 500 metres (yards) from housing in the Brussels suburb of Zaventem after the crash, which occurred at 1130 GMT.
Local residents have long campaigned to have this particular runway shut down, and said the crash was entirely predictable.
The plane broke into three pieces, and stopped just metres short of electricity power cables.
The massive four-engined jet belonged to Kalitta Air, airport spokeswoman Tru Lefevere said.
Belgian TV reported that the plane was carrying diplomatic baggage belonging to the US Ambassador to Belgium, including a car and papers. The US embassy in Brussels refused to comment.
The five-strong crew were all Americans, and the plane was bound for the Gulf state of Bahrain, according to another airport official, Jan Van der Cruysse.
No obvious cause for the crash was immediately apparent and an inquiry has been opened.
"It seems that the plane must have suddenly left the runway as it was attempting take-off, and crashed. It was perhaps a technical problem, but we don't know," airport spokeswoman Tru Lefevre said.
"There are no injuries even though the five people on board have been taken to hospital," Lefevre added, noting that one of them was in a state of shock.
Officials said the crash had not significantly affected air traffic, but the rail link between the airport and the centre of the Belgian capital had been suspended as the line ran close to the scene of the crash.
A yellow escape chute could be seen emerging from the fuselage.
Brussels airport is situated about 15 kilometres (10 miles) from the Belgian capital.
"This was very close to a catastrophe," said Frederic Petit of the local residents' association. "Imagine if it had been an aircraft full of passengers!"
"Since 2004, freight planes have been using this runway on Saturdays and Sundays, yet it is 1,000 metres (yards) shorter than the others," he added.
"The politicians can no longer beat about the bush, this runway must immediately be closed to the heaviest carriers," said the Mayor of neighbouring Wezembeek-Oppem, Francois Van Hoobrouck.
Based in Michigan, and named after the owner Conrad Kalitta, Kalitta Air was founded in 2000 and has 18 Boeing 747s, according to its website.
In October 1992, an Israeli El Al Boeing 747 cargo plane crashed into a residential block after taking off from Amsterdam airport, killing the crew and 39 people on the ground. Both engines on its right wing had fallen off.
In December 1999, a Korean Air Boeing 747 cargo plane crashed soon after take-off from Stansted airport near London, killing all four crew.
Large-scale disaster was averted after the plane, with a cargo that included highly flammable chemicals, including paint and benzene, missed villages and crashed into fields.
Crew failure to deal with a faulty instrument emergency and maintenance faults was cited as the cause of the accident.