Smoke was seen trailing from an aircraft minutes before it crashed at West Maitland on Sunday morning, killing its 44-year-old pilot.
Royal Newcastle Aero Club president John Tate said he had been advised the pilot, a club member, had flown a low-wing piper archer aircraft earlier in the morning without incident.
He then borrowed a single-engine, two-seater Osprey 2 amphibious aircraft for the second flight.
It is understood the plane suffered engine issues 15 minutes after take-off and the pilot had tried to return to the airbase but crashed en route.
"The plane was observed at about 2000 -2500 feet with smoke trailing from it," Mr Tate, who was not present when the accident occurred, said.
"I understand he was contacted on the radio but I don't know the outcome of that conversation."
The plane crashed in a paddock between Denton Close and Beacon Hill Road about 10.15am.
Residents rushed to the scene and removed the pilot, performing CPR until paramedics arrived, but he could not be saved.
Witnesses said the plane was flying low over houses and appeared on approach to the aero club when it banked sharply to the left and crashed in the paddock.
Chief Inspector Rob Post from Maitland Police said the pilot, a 44-year-old man was "very experienced".
"It's a terrible tragedy and our sympathies go to the pilot's family," Mr Tate said.
A resident, who wished to remain anonymous, was part of the rescue efforts and said it appeared the plane's motor had stopped.
"We didn't hear anything before the bang, we didn't hear a motor," he said.
"Normally when they go over, you hear the engine, even if they are coasting coming into land."
He said a group of residents, which included a pilot, worked quickly to alert emergency services and attempt to save the man.
"When I first got over there, he had the seatbelt wrapped around him and it was right into the area we were trying to get into," he said.
"So I got a pair of sidecutters, just to cut the belt, and it dropped off.
"Then someone said we can lift the plane, so we started moving the plane to get him out.
"There was fuel leaking but it wasn't going anywhere where it was going to cause any issues."
He said the pilot had "head and facial injuries". Another resident performed CPR until paramedics arrived.
The resident said there had been three serious incidents with aircrafts, two fatal, in Windella during his 20 years there.
He was surprised there had not been more given the amount of small planes taking off and landing at Maitland Airport.
NSW Ambulance duty operations manager Shane Harris said "residents worked with emergency services to free the man and shortly after he was pronounced deceased".
Mr Harris said the crashed plane was "an ultra-light style aircraft and, from what I understand, it could potentially be homemade."
A Fire and Rescue NSW spokesman said firefighters were on the scene to clear fuel spills and hazardous material from the crash site.
One firefighter had been injured during this process and transported to hospital.
Peter Gibson from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority confirmed the aircraft was an Osprey 2 amphibious aircraft, bought as a kit from the manufacturer.
He said it was not unusual for aviation enthusiasts to hand-make planes from kits.
"There would be certainly hundreds, if not around a thousand of these aircraft in the country," Mr Gibson said on Sunday afternoon.
"It's done as a hobby. People enjoy the challenge of building the aircraft from scratch and understanding how it's all put together. Then there is the thrill of flying it."
He said amateur-made planes are usually checked by engineers before flying.
Civil Aviation Safety Authority will work with police and the coroner to establish the cause of the crash. The investigation is likely to take several months to complete.
The last fatal crash at the aero club occurred in June 2009 when experienced pilot Bruce Clark crashed while coming in to land.
It is believed Mr Clark's micro-light aircraft may have been hit by a wind gust as it approached for landing.
In September 2004 an amateur pilot crashed during a take-off from the same airport.
Newcastle businessman Neil Newton, 50, died trying to take off at Royal Newcastle Aero Club's airfield during his first solo flight.