Chambers County Sheriff Brian Hawthorne told reporters that witnesses saw the twin-engine plane strike Trinity Bay "nose first" and that they heard the plane's engines surging.
It was one of two deadly plane crashes in the United States today.
Atlas Air said three people were on the plane, "and their family members are our top priority at this time".
He says a debris field extends for about three-quarters of a mile.
Three people were on board the Boeing 767 jet, which was traveling from Miami to Houston, the FAA said in an email. Air boats are needed to access the area. An investigation has been launched by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The Texas Department of Public Safety is expected to send in a dive team to recover the plane's black box, which can provide vital clues about what brought the plane down.
According to the website Flight Aware, the plane left Miami at 11:33 a.m. and its last reported altitude was about 3,000 feet, when it appeared the aircraft was descending toward Houston. Radar and communication contact was lost over Trinity Bay, Texas, the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has confirmed in a statement.
"The plane was flying through the very southern end of Winter Storm Quiana", said Belles.
NTSB's aviation accident database shows there two non-fatal incidents at the airport in 2011 involving an experimental plane that veered off the runway and in 2004 involving a student pilot who taxied the plane to a closed runway.