ROME — One of Romania's richest men, billionaire business executive Dan Petrescu, was killed along with his wife, son and several others when a plane he was piloting crashed Sunday in the outskirts of Milan just minutes after takeoff.

Petrescu, 68, was a flight enthusiast whose wealth exceeded $3 billion, Italian media reported, with an empire of buildings, hypermarkets and shopping centers. He was en route from Milan’s Linate Airport to the island of Sardinia, navigating through clouds, when his plane descended in what some witnesses described as a free fall.

Among the other seven who died, according to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, were Petrescu’s wife, Regina Dorotea Petrescu Balzat, 65, his son, Dan Stefan Petrescu, 30, and an Italian-French family with a baby.

According to a series of Romanian media reports, Petrescu kept a low profile in his daily life, but was a major landholder in Bucharest. His business partner was the more famous Ion Tiriac, a former tennis player. Petrescu also had Germancitizenship and had fled his home country during the reign of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. But he returned to Romania around the time of Ceausescu’s overthrow and execution.

The plane, a single-engine Pilatus PC-12, departed in the early afternoon and ran into trouble quickly — never asking to return to the airport, according Corriere della Sera.

“Why did you deviate? To avoid turbulence?” air traffic controllers asked the pilot, according to the newspaper, which re-created the final minutes of the flight, based on interviews with airport sources.

“No,” was the only response.

The plane crashed into an empty two-story building not far from a metro station. The building burst into flames, with columns of smoke rising into the air. Italy’s fire and rescue service later shared video of the scorched building — and several torched cars that had been parked nearby.

A prosecutor in Milan, Tiziana Siciliano, told reporters that it was too early to provide any explanation for the crash. She said that the black box had been retrieved.