QUEBEC - The pilot of a small plane that crashed near the Quebec City airport calmly called the control tower, just moments before his aircraft hit the ground in an explosion compared by one witness to "a mountain of fire."

All seven people on board — five passengers and two crew — were killed Wednesday.

The pilot had sounded relatively calm amid the trouble, maintaining an even tone as he called in to report what appears to have been engine failure.

But another voice came onto the control tower recording just seconds later: "There was a fireball only three knots from the airport. I believe it's a King Air from Aeropro that just crashed."

The plane slammed into the sprawling yard of former NHL hockey player Mario Marois, a onetime captain of the Quebec Nordiques and current scout for the Carolina Hurricanes. Marois was not home but family members witnessed the scene.

Debris from the plane was heavily charred. No one in the home or neighbourhood was injured.

Among those killed in the crash was Normand Tremblay, a project manager for the Cegerco general contracting firm in Saguenay, Que.

The identities of the six other dead were not immediately released.

Officials say the twin-turboprop Beechcraft King Air 100 went down shortly after takeoff from Jean Lesage Airport.

Denis Guay, a resident of the neighbourhood, said he heard the sound of a sputtering engine before before beholding "a mountain of fire" rising into the air as the plane hit the earth.

"We heard a big explosion and then we called 911," Guay said.

The aircraft's fuel tanks were three-quarters full.

The Beechcraft took off at 5:57 a.m., heading for Natashquan on the Lower North Shore of the St. Lawrence River with a stopover in Sept-Iles in eastern Quebec.

The aircraft was operated by Aeropro, a 22-year-old company that runs business and recreational charters and claims 250 employees based out of the Quebec City airport.

Jacques Paillard, Aeropro's vice-president, told a news conference that the aircraft had undergone routine maintenance in the last 10 days. He said the Beechcraft is able to fly even if one of its two engines fails.

"I cannot understand," he said.

"I do not know why they could not gain altitude. I can speculate but I will not. The (federal government) will do its investigation."

The national Transportation Safety Board has sent a team to investigate, as it customarily does in the case of plane accidents.

Authorities set up a security perimeter around the neighbourhood where the crash occurred.

Aeropro said the pilot had been with the company for about a year while the co-pilot had "three or four years'" service.

Workers at Cegerco were in shock upon hearing of Tremblay's death.

"The Tremblay family is very involved in Cegerco," said Jeannot Harvey, the company's president. "Normand's brother and his daughter Stephanie also work for us.

"The battle cry today is to pass the most accurate information possible to all of the family."

Normand Tremblay was working on a $6.5-million renovation project in Natashquan.

The accident comes one month after another plane crashed in nearby L'Isle Aux Grues, killing four people. That flight slammed into an embankment 15 minutes after takeoff and disintegrated into flames.

The plane that crashed a month ago was also carrying an Aeropro sticker and its operator had business ties to Aeropro — but the company said Wednesday it did not own the plane that crashed into L'Isle Aux Grues.

(With files from Jacques Boissinot and Andy Blatchford)