It happened in a field off of Highway 751 in northern Chatham County about one mile south of the Durham County line.
"You could hear it spitting and sputtering, smoke was coming out of it," eyewitness Kama Williams said.
The aircraft had apparently struggled before it crash landed in a field. Witnesses say nearby horses tried to escape from the explosion.
"I never seen anything like it," eyewitness Doug Pietrowski said. "That was amazing, you see the front of the plane is really trashed."
The plane smashed through a fence before bursting into flames.
Firefighters doused the aircraft with water and foam as it burned in the field.
"[The pilot] saw some flames, he lost the ability to control the airplane and then he sat it down," Chatham County Capt. Roy Allen said.
The unidentified pilot and his wife escaped uninjured, but were shaken.
"They both said they were happy to be alive, very thankful, this Thanksgiving is going to be extremely special for both of them," Allen said.
The owner of the plane - Cary pilot Ken Misegaedes - told ABC11 Eyewitness News he had loaned the plane to his friend. He didn't name the friend, but said the man is a retired Air Force and American Airlines pilot - which probably contributed to the safe landing.
"Good safe pilots always expect the unexpected," Misgaedes said.
Federal investigators are currently trying to figure out what went wrong. The cause of the crash is still under investigation.