WINCHESTER, Va. (AP) _ A plane chartered by U.S. Senate candidate Oliver North crashed early today on the way to an airport to pick him up. The pilot was killed.

The pilot, a friend of North, was the only one on the twin-engine plane when it crashed shortly before 1 a.m. while trying to land at Winchester Regional Airport in northwest Virginia.

The plane came to rest about a quarter-mile from the airport in the front yard of Keith Rodgers, who said North campaign posters were scattered near the wreckage. The craft, a Swearingen Merlin IIIA, clipped some trees before going down, witnesses said.

Pilot Bobby R. Venable flew out of Dulles International Airport. North was scheduled to board the plane this morning in Winchester after a speech at a hotel, said Bill Wilson, a campaign volunteer.

Venable, 39, of Front Royal owned the plane, said Lucy Caldwell, a state police spokeswoman. North, a figure in the Iran-Contra affair, said he and Venable had become good friends since Venable became his pilot in 1992.

North said he made the speech as scheduled and planned to continue his campaign activities today at the request of Venable's widow.

The National Transportation Safety Board, state police and the FAA were investigating, Fulton said.