Updated: 21/02/17 : 06:56:04
Printable Version   Bookmark and Share Share This

world

World :: Five killed as aircraft hits Melbourne shopping centre

Four US citizens and an Australian pilot have died after their 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 police.

Despite the destruction, no-one was killed or injured on the ground.

Victoria's Premier Daniel Andrews said it was the worst civilian aviation accident in the state in 30 years.

"Today is a desperately sad day," he said.

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 Irish Time/GMT Monday).

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

The Direct Factory Outlets 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," said Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Stephen Leane.

The US embassy has confirmed that four passengers on the plane, bound for Tasmania's King Island, were US citizens.

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.

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.

"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."

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.