- Photos: Small plane crashes in Hawthorne
- Interactive map: View plane crash site
- More: Most Popular stories, videos and more
- More: Get breaking news alerts
ABC7 HD was the first news helicopter to arrive on the scene where a single-engine plane went down near Crenshaw and Imperial Highway on the south side of the airport at 4:24 p.m.
The Beechcraft Bonanza G36 crashed into the parking lot in between some buildings just 200 yards south of the runway.
The National Transportation Safety Board says the three men on board were pilots participating in touch-and-go exercises out of the Hawthorne Airport, and according to the FAA, the plane was taking off and landing at Hawthorne Airport.
The FAA said it wasn't known whether the plane was taking off or landing when it crashed.
The victims were identified as 45-year-old Jorge Quinones of Downey, 38-year-old Mustapha Sesay of Ladera Ranch and 40-year-old Rajesh Vashdev of Manhattan Beach.
The victims' bodies were removed from the scene just before 11 p.m. Wednesday.
Although the cause of the crash has not yet been determined, witnesses said they had seen smoke coming out of the plane.
"We have multiple witnesses and so consequently, we get multiple responses, but there was report of smoke coming from the engine," said NTSB investigator Patrick Jones. "The aircraft turned away from the runway and they lost sight of the aircraft as it crashed."
Authorities say the plane crashed nose first into a parking lot at the Vought Aircraft Industries facility.
"The airplane came to a stop within the parking lot, not injuring any of the employees here at the plant," said Inspector Frank Garrido, Los Angeles County Fire Department.
The nose of the plane was destroyed, the tail section was bent to one side, and fuel spilled across the ground.
Wreckage was found on a roof nearby, which may suggest the plane hit a building, but investigators are still unsure what happened.
Relatives of the victims gathered near the crash site Wednesday night, telling about the loved ones they lost.
"He always tried to get me to fly with him, but I was too afraid," said Muzae Sesay, brother of Mustapha Sesay.
Muzae says Mustapha was an experienced pilot and flight instructor who had a passion for flying.
"It was his dream to fly and be a pilot," Muzae said.
Mustapha's father doesn't know who was piloting the plane before it went down.
"When we saw the crash I automatically called him, just like any other small plane crash, I always called him," said Amid Sesay, Mustapha's father.
The plane was registered to a company called Carpet Pros Inc. of Lawndale.