Five people are dead after a light aircraft crashed and burst into flames after plunging into a Melbourne shopping centre on Tuesday morning.
Early reports indicate the aircraft -- a Beechcraft charter flight to King Island -- clipped the side of a DFO factory outlet on the fringe of Essendon airport, in Melbourne's north, around 9am.
Police confirmed at a 12.15pm media conference that all five on board the plane -- a pilot and four passengers -- had died after the aircraft experienced "catastrophic engine failure".
— ABC News 24 (@ABCNews24) February 20, 2017
"At this stage the advice we have is there are no fatalities other than on the aircraft itself. Five on the aircraft and looks like no-one has survived the crash," Victoria Police assistant commissioner, Stephen Leane, told a press conference.
The Herald Sun reports the passengers were Americans on a golf trip and included retired FBI agent Greg De Haven and lawyer Russell Munsch -- both from Texas. The tragic flight was piloted by Max Quartermain, a 63-year-old with decades of experience, Fairfax reports.
Premier Daniel Andrews said the fatal crash would be investigated by the state coroner, Victoria Police, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) and the Air Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB).
"It falls to me to extend our sympathies, our best wishes, our prayers and through whatever we can do, our practical support, to the families of those who have been killed at Essendon Airport this morning," Andrews said.
"And beyond that to give a commitment that all cooperation and all support will be given on the investigation of this terrible incident so that we can learn from it."
Deeply saddened by the tragic accident at Essendon today. Our hearts & prayers are with the victims and their families.— Malcolm Turnbull (@TurnbullMalcolm) February 21, 2017
Vision from the scene shows the aircraft well alight. It is believed the plane hit the Spotlight store, but the shopping outlet was not scheduled to open until 10am, so no customers were inside at the time of the crash. Spotlight released a statement to 3AW radio, saying all staff were accounted for. Pictures from above the crash site show clear damage to the roof of the shopping centre.
Witnesses reported that the plane took off, ascended around 30 metres into the air, then plummeted to the ground. It has been reported the pilot made mayday calls just seconds before the crash.
Ambulance Victoria confirmed the aircraft was not one of their air ambulances, as was earlier claimed on Twitter.
Emergency services responding to a plane crash in Essendon are having difficulty responding after a wheel from the plane crossed on to roads pic.twitter.com/3LFIbMEVjG— Sky News Australia (@SkyNewsAust) February 20, 2017
Huge plumes of thick black smoke billowed from the damaged roof of the shopping centre and from the wreckage itself, with large orange flames burning on the ground.
It took fire crews about 90 minutes to extinguish the flames.
Emergency services said debris from the aircraft ended up on the nearby freeway. It was not clear whether the debris caused any damage or injuries, but roads were closed and traffic diverted as emergency crews attended the scene and worked to clear the area.
Plumes of smoke from the crash were visible from far away.
View from work overlooking essendon airport pic.twitter.com/MBudpd5CjH— Bryan S (@BryanS81) February 20, 2017
A plane has crashed on approach to Essendon Airport. pic.twitter.com/mAVAMYNcDc— ABC Radio Melbourne (@abcmelbourne) February 20, 2017
The downed plane was a Beechcraft Super King Air 200, a twin-turboprop operated by two pilots. The plane can carry up to eight passengers. It was owned by Australian Corporate Jet Centres which operates from Essendon airport.
The factory outlet is right on the edge of the airport, between the tarmac and the Tullamarine Freeway.
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