The pilot of a small, fixed-wing plane died Saturday when his aircraft crashed in a vacant lot in the middle of a West Jordan subdivision.

The single-engine plane took off from Salt Lake Airport #2, 7400 S. 4600 West, moments before going down about 12:05 p.m. in a clearing at 4710 W. 8170 South, said West Jordan Police Lt. Gary Cox.Witnesses said the plane made a complete circle in the air before hitting a spot in the south end of the clearing, then tumbling before coming to rest, leaving debris scattered across the field.

The 29-year-old male pilot, who had not been identified pending notification of family, was the plane's only occupant.

People surveying the wreckage were left shaken but appreciative of the pilot's apparent effort to steer away from the dozen or so homes surrounding the crash site.

"It was a heroic effort on the part of the pilot to avoid hitting some of these houses," Cox said.

It's unknown what caused the crash. An investigative team from the Federal Aviation Administration was expected to arrive Sunday from Colorado.

Residents of the newly built subdivision said it's common to see small aircraft flying above the neighborhood that's about two miles south of the airport. It was obvious this particular plane was in trouble, said Mario Lara Sanchez.

"When I first saw the plane, it was coming in between two homes and it was on fire," said Sanchez, who was working in his son's backyard when he spotted the distressed aircraft.

Subdivision resident David Pierson was doing some yardwork when he saw the plane descending from the south at a 35 degree angle.

"I ran inside and told my wife to call 911, then ran to the crash to help," Pierson said.

The pilot apparently died on impact.

The crash ignited a small grass fire, which was doused by neighbors with garden hoses, Pierson said.

Jennifer Huffman was in the shower when the plane crashed just north of her backyard.

"I didn't hear an engine or anything until I heard a great big thud," Huffman said. "When I looked out I could just see dust where the plane went down."

Sanchez's son, Steve Lara, said he was touched by the pilot's apparent actions to avoid hitting his and his neighbors' homes.

"You get teary-eyed thinking about the decision this gentleman had to make," said Lara, who admits he's second-guessing his decision to buy a home just a few miles from the airport.