The N.T.S.B. investigates Friday's airplane crash in Ft. Lauderdale.

The ill-fated plane was supposed to be in the air 15 minutes for an avionics check.

Instead, it lost power shortly after liftoff and crashed east of Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport on Friday. Federal officials say a mechanical malfunction was likely to blame.

The crash took the lives of all three men onboard: Kevin Watson, 30, of Pompano Beach; his father Wally Watson, 66, of Boca Raton; and their friend, pilot Steven Waller, 65, of Deerfield Beach.

It also left the surrounding neighborhoods in fear.

"Imagine if it fell on top of Northeast High School?" former Oakland Park commissioner Suzanne Boisvenue said. "More needs to be done, but I don't think they're going to do anything until something huge and more catastrophic, like landing on top of a school and killing a bunch of kids, happens."

Witnesses said they saw the 1978 Piper Cheyenne turboprop make a steep right turn in an apparent attempt to return to the airport before plunging into an impound lot and bursting into flames, setting ablaze a boat and numerous repossessed cars.

On Saturday, federal air safety investigators said they would examine every aspect of the flight — from the plane's maintenance history to the pilot's emergency call to the control tower just before the 4:15 p.m. crash.

"We're in fact-gathering mode," said Luke Schiada, senior accident investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board. "We're not going to draw any conclusions or speculate."

Kimberly Waller says she knows one thing: Her husband of 16 years, pilot Steven Waller, wasn't the reason the plane went down.

"The plane fell from the friggin' sky," she said. "The plane was a piece of crap. Why that friggin' plane had a mechanical failure, I don't know."

Wally Watson had asked her husband, a charter pilot, to take the plane up for a 15-minute test flight, she said.

"Steve is an excellent pilot," she said. "He never took any chances."

According to Federal Aviation Administration records, Waller had earned an airline transport pilot rating and was qualified to fly several types of corporate jets.

The Watsons own the Avionics Engineering firm at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport. The firm specializes in aircraft repairs and retrofit installations, according to the company website.

Prior to the accident, the Piper Cheyenne had been taken to Avionics Engineering to have radio work performed, airport sources say. The aircraft is registered to Miami Aviation Specialist Inc. of Fort Lauderdale, an airplane parts firm. No one at either company could be reached for comment.

Mary Lou Gallagher, president of a corporate flight attendant training company based at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, saw the plane flying low on Friday.

"All of a sudden, he crashed," she said. She and a friend tried to get near the plane to save the pilots ''but there was no way to get close. It was a wall of fire.''

On Saturday, investigators sifted through the mangled wreckage. The plane's fuselage was completely destroyed and parts, including the propellers, were strewn around the parking lot. A yellow loader was brought in to lift burned cars away from the impact area.

The wreckage is expected to be trucked to a nearby hangar for further inspection.

The NTSB plans to release a preliminary accident report in about a week, a more detailed report in six to eight months and a final "probable cause" ruling in about 18 months.

Family and friends of the three men shared their grief through postings on Facebook.