LONDON - A jet aircraft ploughed into several cars on a road near an airshow in southern England on Saturday, killing seven people, police said.

The Hawker Hunter fighter jet crashed onto the A27 road, close to an airport in Shoreham where the airshow was taking place, near the city of Brighton. One person was being treated for life-threatening injuries and a further 14 people were being treated for minor injuries, police said in a statement.

Video footage posted online showed the plane in the process of executing an acrobatic loop before it hit the ground, causing an explosion which appeared to engulf some cars on a road. “He’d gone up into a loop and as he was coming out of the loop I just thought, you’re too low, you’re too low, pull up,” the BBC quoted an eyewitness, Stephen Jones, as saying.

“And he flew straight into the ground either on or very close to the A27, which runs past the airport.” Media reports said the pilot of the plane was pulled from burning wreckage. The crash happened at around 1:20pm. The Hawker Hunter is a single-seater jet which was developed by Britain in the 1950s. Seven people were killed when two planes practising for an air show collided in Slovakia on Thursday. A U.S. Army parachutist died after he was involved in a mid-air collision with another parachutist at a Chicago air show last Saturday.

“We were waiting for it to go back up and it didn’t - it seemed to kind of split in two,” she said. “There were huge amounts of fire and we ran from the car to kind of avoid the debris because we were about 15 metres away, we were just across the road from where the accident happened.”

Another eyewitness, tweeting as Jon B, said: “It (the plane) turned from the north by Lancing College, went to go low towards the airfield and went behind some trees below where I was. “Then there was a crunch sound and a ball of flames and thick black smoke came up from the ground.”

I’m standing on the middle of the A27 and it’s deserted. The police are taking no chances whatsoever. I’ve been asked to move back in case of any further explosions. I’ve been speaking to people and they are absolutely stunned. The plane seems to have stalled mid manoeuvre and came crashing down on the A27.

The acrid smell and thick black smoke has just been fanning across the area and the skies are completely quiet. A spokesman for Sussex Police said emergency services had declared a “major incident” with a number of helicopters deployed to the scene following the crash at 13:20 BST.

He said: “The casualties are all believed to have occurred on the road at this time and there are not thought to be any injuries to anyone actually on the airfield. “The Air Accident Investigation Bureau are attending the scene and have asked anyone who has video or photographs of the plane in the time leading up to and including the crash to hold on to them and await advice as to whether they may be wanted to assist with the investigation.”

Shoreham resident Dave Penwarden, 51, said he saw the plane explode. “The plane was coming out of a loop-the-loop, it was fairly low,” he said.

“It just didn’t seem to have enough speed to come out of the loop, instead of powering out it dropped too fast and hit the ground. “There was a massive fireball and an awful lot of smoke. Afterwards there was a stunned silence.”

Gairo Gomez, who works nearby, said: “I heard a huge bang and the glass was shaking and the doors were banging, the whole building was shaking. “I saw some smoke later on, at the time I didn’t realise what had happened. Then I was told the plane had crashed, it’s terrible.”

Tim Loughton MP, who represents East Worthing and Shoreham, tweeted: “Tragic news that there have been fatalities at the Shoreham Air Show crash and our thoughts and prayers must be with the families and casualties.” It is the second incident at the Shoreham Airshow in recent years. In September 2007 James Bond stuntman Brian Brown, 49, died when he crashed a World War Two Hurricane after carrying out an unplanned barrel roll at a re-enactment of the Battle of Britain. First flown in 1951, the single-seat plane was used as a fighter, fighter-bomber for reconnaissance and for aerobatics.

There was also a two-seat trainer version, which served with many other air forces. Two-seater variants are still used by the RAF for training. The Hunter Hawker was deployed in major operations such as Malaya and Suez. The plane was also flown by an RAF display team dubbed the “Black Arrows”.