A small passenger plane has crashed at Belgium's Charleroi airport, killing five people and closing the international hub used by Ryanair and other low-cost carriers.

The aircraft had problems on take-off on Saturday and tried to return to Charleroi to make an emergency landing but crashed on the side of the runway, airport officials said.

"There was a problem on take-off and they tried to come back, but unfortunately the plane crashed," said Melissa Milioto, an airport spokeswoman. "Five people were killed."

Firefighters sprayed water on the plane, a Cessna, which was reduced to a wreck of twisted metal, with only the tail still visible, television images showed.

Flying conditions were poor, with freezing fog.

The Belgian news agency Belga said the five killed were three children aged seven and below, their mother and grandfather, and were all Belgian nationals.

The airport was closed immediately after the crash. Several flights were cancelled, with another handful of flights delayed at the start of the Belgian school half-term holidays.

"Our priority is dealing with this drama. Flights are being diverted to Liege and Brussels," Milioto said.

Source: Agencies