Melbourne plane crash: Five killed as aircraft hits shopping centre

Five people have died after a light plane crashed into a shopping centre in Melbourne, Australia.

The charter flight appeared to have had a “catastrophic engine failure” shortly after taking off from the small Essendon Airport, said Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Stephen Leane.

Everyone on board is believed dead.

“At this stage the advice we have is there are no fatalities other than on the aircraft itself,” the commissioner said.

The shopping centre was not open to the public at the time.

“Looking at the fireball, it is incredibly lucky that no-one was at the back of those stores or in the car park of the stores, that no-one was even hurt,” he added.

Local media reported US nationals were among those on the plane, which was bound for Tasmania’s King Island.

Scene of damage at the shopping centre in Essendon, Melbourne (21 Feb 2017)
Firefighters at the scene of the crash near Essendon Airport (21 Feb 2017)

“Today is a desperately sad day,” Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said.

“A number of people have died as a result of what is the worst civil aviation accident that our state has seen for 30 years.”

A spokeswoman for Spotlight, a retailer in the complex, said the plane crashed into its rear warehouse but all staff were safe.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau said it would investigate how the twin-engine Beechcraft B200 King Air crashed soon after 09:00 local time on Tuesday (22:00 GMT Monday).

Firefighters at the scene of the crash near Essendon Airport (21 Feb 2017)

Local media named the pilot as 63-year-old Max Quartermain. He had decades of flying experience and an “impeccable safety record”, according to the website of charter company Corporate and Leisure Aviation, which he owned with his wife.

Essendon Airport, mostly used by light planes, is about 13km (8 miles) north-west of central Melbourne.

It has been closed, but the city’s main hubs for commercial air traffic – Melbourne Airport and Avalon Airport – remain open.

Chaotic aftermath

The crash sent black smoke high into the air and ignited a blaze that required more than 60 firefighters to bring under control.

Police shut the adjacent Tullamarine Freeway after witnesses spotted debris from the plane including a wheel on the road. The area around the shops was evacuated, and three nearby schools were closed.

Video showed thick smoke and fire at the wreckage scene.

An aircraft wheel on the road near the crash site in Melbourne (21 Feb 2017)

“Immediately I could tell it was something horrific, the explosion would have gone 30m [100ft] high and ballooned upwards in red and black,” witness Mikey Cahill told the Herald Sun.

Another witness, Daniel May, said he was waiting for the shopping centre to open when the plane came down.

“There was an orange explosion and then smoke,” he told The Age. “Emergency crews rushed very quickly in, soon after, and I left the area.”

Employees of local businesses in Melbourne (21 Feb 2017)

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he was “deeply saddened” as he offered condolences to the families of the victims.

King Island, popular for its beaches and dairy farms, lies 245km (150 miles) south of Melbourne in Bass Strait.

Source: BBC

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