Two private airplanes collided yesterday and plunged into the New York suburbs, setting six residential buildings afire and killing at least five people. Authorities said the death toll might rise once the charred homes were searched.

Two people were found dead in a light propeller plane, a Piper Cherokee, that crashed in nearby Fairview, and a third body was found under the wreckage. However, the greatest casualties were feared here, where a business jet with at least two people aboard slammed into two apartment buildings, setting them and three adjacent buildings afire.

The pilots of the Falcon 50 were presumed dead, although their bodies had not been found, said State Police Sgt. Tom Dombroski.

Capt. Tom Pierson of the nearby Fort Lee police department said he expected to find at least 20 bodies in the burned buildings.

"As far as victims go, there is no one alive in any of those buildings," said Pierson, who estimated the five buildings housed as many as 90 families.

Pierson said it was not known how many people were in the homes when the jet, owned by Nabisco Brands Inc. and capable of carrying 12 passengers, crashed around 5 p.m.

Hospitals reported that eight people on the ground were injured, apparently from the crash. The crash occurred in northern New Jersey, across the Hudson River from Manhattan.

In Fairview, debris from the Piper Cherokee was strewn over eight blocks, said Fire Commissioner Joseph Rutch. The plane struck a two-story apartment building, but the resulting fire was quickly brought under control, Rutch said.

Meanwhile, in Nashville, emergency chutes and hatches were used to evacuate 142 people from an American Airlines jetliner when the pilot returned to Metropolitan Nashville Airport shortly after takeoff because a fire warning light went on, authorities said.

The MD80, an updated version of the DC9, left the airport bound for Dallas-Fort Worth at 1:29 p.m. CST, circled the airport, then landed safely at 1:50 p.m., said Al Becker, an airline spokesman in Dallas. There were no serious injuries and no smoke or flames, he said. "We do not know the cause of the warning light," Becker said.