Australia

Melbourne plane crash: Five killed as aircraft hits shopping centre

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Media captionAerial footage from Channel 9 News shows the aftermath of the crash

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.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The plane ploughed into the shopping centre as it was preparing to open
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Fire crews had to tackle a large blaze

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).

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


Who were the victims?

A pilot and four passengers were killed in the tragic accident. Details of who died are still emerging.

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

In a statement on Tuesday, the embassy expressed its "deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of those who died in today's tragic crash".

Max Quartermain

Local media named the pilot as 63-year-old Max Quartermain.

Image copyright @ABCNews24

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, Cilla.

Greg Reynolds De Haven

The 70-year-old from Texas was identified on social media by his sister, Denelle Wicht, who posted tributes to her "handsome athletic big brother". She said he was killed in the accident while on a "once in a lifetime" trip to Australia.

Ms Wicht added that Mr De Haven, reported to be a retired FBI agent, was travelling to King Island to play golf.

Russell Munsch

Mr Munsch was identified in a Facebook post by his cousin, Carol Holst. She confirmed that "Russ was killed in a plane crash in Australia," and advised friends to "hug your loved ones, you never know".

Image copyright munsch.com

Mr Munsch, 62, was a founding partner with the law firm Munsch Hardt, which was established in 1985 and opened an office in Austin in 1996. He specialised in bankruptcy and commercial law.


The Direct Factory Outlets (DFO) 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.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Several cars were torched by the fireball
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A huge cloud of smoke could be seen from the nearby airport

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.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption An aircraft wheel could be seen lying on the road by the crash site
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Employees from businesses inside were left shocked but unharmed

"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.


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