The Airbus A300 plane crashed around 5 a.m. CDT on approach to the airport, Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said. The plane was en route from Louisville, Ky., Bergen said.
Herrera-Bast said the plane crashed in "open land" she described as a grassy field on the outskirts of Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport. The crash hasn't affected airport operations, she said.
The scene is about a half-mile north of Runway 18, Bergen said.
Sharon Wilson, who lives near the airport, said she was in bed before dawn when an airplane went over her house at what sounded like treetop level.
The engines were making an odd sound like sputtering, she said.
"It sounded like an airplane had given out of fuel. We thought it was trying to make it to the airport. But a few minutes later we heard a loud 'boom,'" she said.
Another resident, Jerome Sanders, lives directly across from the runway. He said he heard a plane just before dawn and could see flames seconds before it crashed.
"It was on fire before it hit," Sanders said.
At 7 a.m. Wednesday, conditions in the area were rainy with low clouds. Smoke was still rising from the scene at 7:47 a.m. There was a piece of the plane's white fuselage near a blackened area on the ground.
"The plane is in several sections," said Birmingham Mayor William Bell, who was briefed on the situation by the city's fire chief. "There were two to three small explosions, but we think that was related to the aviation fuel."
The two crewmembers on board were the pilot and the co-pilot, Bell said.
The plane appears to have struck a massive hardwood tree north of the runway. The top was broken out of the tree and there are pieces of a utility pole and limbs in the road. Nearby, grass was blackened near the bottom of a hill. A piece of the fuselage and an engine are visible on the crest of the hill. White smoke was pouring from the other side of the hill.
"As we work through this difficult situation, we ask for your patience, and that you keep those involved in your thoughts and prayers," Atlanta-based UPS said in a statement.
Previously, a UPS cargo plane crashed on Sept. 3, 2010, in the United Arab Emirates, just outside Dubai. Both pilots were killed. Authorities there blamed the crash on its load of between 80,000 to 90,000 lithium batteries, which are sensitive to temperature. Investigators found that a fire on board likely began in the cargo containing the batteries.