NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ A Navy fighter jet on a training flight crashed in a huge fireball this morning in a neighborhood near the airport, demolishing homes and killing at least five people.

Mayor Phil Bredesen said the two crew members were killed, as well as three people found dead in a house hit by the falling plane. At least three other homes were struck or burned, and the mayor said death toll could go higher.

The plane, based at Miramar Naval Air Station near San Diego, had just taken off from Nashville International Airport when the crash happened shortly before 10 a.m.

``It was moving so fast I couldn't even tell what shape it was, and then this huge fireball erupted and the heat came through the glass of my car,'' said Don Isert, who was driving near the airport.

The plane was had landed and refueled at Nashville and was heading back to California when it crashed. It had flown the Miramar-Nashville route as a training mission, the Navy said.

The confirmed dead on the ground were an elderly couple and one other person in the house with them, the mayor said.

The airport has an adjacent facility for the Tennessee Air National Guard; it shares runways with the civilian airport.

The plane crashed shortly before 10 a.m., and three hours later, the fire still was not out. Pieces of the plane littered the area, a middle-income suburban neighborhood with brick houses 2 1/2 miles southeast of the airport.

A tall column of black smoke could be seen for miles.

Stasi Stubblefield lives a half-mile from where the plane went down.

``The crash is the only thing that I had heard,'' said Stasi Stubblefield, who lives nearby. ``I saw a plane. It looked like it was going directly down ... nose down.''

The fighter flattened two houses as it skipped along the ground, and at least two more houses were gutted by fire before the plane wreckage came to rest in a yard.

``The plane done kind of half a cartwheel and tried to take off again and then it was like the nose was up in the air a little bit,'' Frank Zandt told WKRN-TV.

Neva Hammonds said a piece of the plane's engine landed in her front yard, a half mile from the crash site. It was not immediately clear whether the engine landed there before the crash or afterward.

The Metro Nashville medical examiner was at the crash site and spokesman Cliff Hawks said the coroner had been alerted to stand by to receive an unspecified number of bodies.

Witnesses said they did not see a parachute or any sign that the crew members had ejected from the aircraft.

Calls to the Air National Guard field were answered by a recording.

The Navy public affairs office in the Pentagon confirmed that the plane was an F-14 based at Miramar.

The F-14 Tomcat is the Navy's first-line fighter aircraft. It is a supersonic, twin-engine fighter designed to attack enemy aircraft in all weather conditions and at night. It typically is armed with a mix of intercept missiles, rockets and bombs.

The jet, built by Grumman, was introduced in the Navy in the 1970s.