Eight people were killed last night when their two-engine private airplane plunged to the ground near Rte. I-95 north of Richmond while trying to land at the Hanover County airport in fog and drizzle.

The victims, all reportedly residents of Hanover County or the Richmond area, were returning home from South Florida where they were believed to have spent the holidays.

The pilot was identified as Troy O. Leadbetter, 53, of Glen Allen, Va., and was described in an Associated Press report as a prominent Richmond-area businessman and construction executive. His wife, Shirley, 52, and his son David, 14, also were killed. The other victims were not identified immediately.

Their plane, a Cessna 414, had abandoned its first approach to the airport and was preparing to make another when it disappeared about 5 p.m. from the radar scopes of Richmond-area air controllers, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

When last seen on the scopes, the FAA said, the propeller-driven plane was headed west at an altitude of 1,500 feet.

"There was no indication of any problem from the pilot," an FAA spokesman said last night.

The cause of the crash was not immediately known and was under investigation last night by both federal and local authorities.

The plane "nosedived into the ground" in flat, wooded terrain between Rte. I-95 and the airport, which is about one mile from the road, according to a Virginia state police dispatcher in Richmond.

He said that the plane caught fire after the crash but that the victims were believed killed by the impact.

According to the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board, the plane was en route to Hanover County from Key West, Fla. After a stop at Boca Raton, Fla., north of Miami, where an instrument flight plan was filed, it took off about 1 p.m. for the 1,850-mile flight to the Richmond area.

After being cleared for a southbound approach to the 4,650-foot runway at the county airport, the pilot "executed a missed approach," according to the FAA and "was going around" again.

The reason for abandoning the first approach could not be learned last night. According to the FAA, the approach was made in a light drizzle and fog with an overcast at 300 feet and a visibility of one mile.

The site of the crash is about 10 miles north of Richmond and about 80 miles south of Washington.