Officials said the single-engine Pitts S2E aircraft was flying eastbound, coming in for a landing, but hit some trees on the way in.
"Single-engine plane evidently struck a tree, and the tree flipped the plane over onto its belly," said Sgt. Brian Maynard of the NC Highway Patrol. "(It) overturned and trapped the pilot in."
The FAA said the pilot was the only person on board.
Update- Hwy Patrol identifies victim in Apex plane crash as 80-yr old Bruce Jordan of Cary. Jordan was the pilot and the only one on board. pic.twitter.com/s4EzF3vASx— Joel Brown (@JoelBrownABC11) March 9, 2017
When Chopper 11 HD arrived over the scene, Apex firefighters were moving in, scrambling to get to the pilot trapped inside.
"Their first thing is to try and save a life if they can," Maynard said. "And unfortunately in this case, it didn't work out."
The Highway Patrol identified the victim as 80-year-old Bruce Jordan, of Cary.
Jordan was a well-known aviation enthusiast at Cox Field.
Though Jordan was 80, you wouldn't know it by looking at him, one of his neighbors told ABC11.
He was youthful in his passion about these planes, the neighbor said. He was doing what he loved.
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On Wednesday afternoon, an eyewitness called police after seeing the plane fall from the sky.
Neighbors near the airfield said low-flying planes are a way of life in that part of Apex.
Oh yes, all the time," said resident Heather Godwin. "Couple times a day.
"My parents have been here 27 years," Godwin added. "It's not really that common. It happens, but I guess every once in a while, accidents happen."
As nightfall arrived, the wreckage was locked down and guarded by the Highway Patrol, until National Transportation Safety Board investigators arrived Thursday morning.
The FAA is investigating and said the NTSB is in charge of the investigation and will determine the cause of the crash.
Investigators took pictures and dug up samples of dirt for testing around the mangled aircraft.
"Well, look and see if there are any safety issues and hopefully go from there and try to prevent something like this from happening again," NTSB Air Safety Investigator Heidi Kemner said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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