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PALMDALE, Calif. (AP) _ Three people were killed Sunday when their small plane crashed shortly after takeoff from Agua Dulce Airpark, authorities said.

The twin-engine Piper aircraft crashed in a remote area about two miles northeast of the airport and sparked a half-acre brushfire, said Los Angeles County fire spokesman Brian Jordan.

The victims were found still in the plane. Their identities were not immediately determined.

It was not known what caused the crash north of Los Angeles. The National Transportation and Safety Board was investigating, said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Jim Meloon.

Marla Stark, who was riding her horse in the canyon near the crash site, said she saw the plane flying low and swerving.

``The nose went down and he skidded, and then a huge ball of explosion,'' Stark said.