‘Catastrophic engine failure’ to blame for Melbourne plane crash

Pilot and four American passengers died en-route to Tasmania to play golf

A small plane carrying five people crashes into a shopping centre near an airport outside Melbourne, Australia. Video: Reuters

 

A plane that crashed into a shopping centre near Essendon airport in Melbourne, killing four US tourists and their Australian pilot, had a “catastrophic engine failure” shortly after takeoff, police have said.

The twin-engine aircraft, which issued a mayday shortly after leaving the airport about 9am local time on Tuesday (10pm Irish time on Monday), was taking the tourists to King Island, Tasmania to play golf.

“The pilot unfortunately attempted to return to Essendon but has crashed into the DFO at Essendon Fields,” a police assistant commissioner, Stephen Leane, told reporters.

Mr Leane said none of the staff at Direct Factory Outlets - which was not yet open to the public when the crash occurred- had been injured. “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 said.

Metropolitan Fire Brigade putting out a blaze from the light aircraft which exploded as it smashed into a shopping centre near Melbourne. Photograph: Metropolitan Fire Brigade/AFP/Getty Images
Metropolitan Fire Brigade putting out a blaze from the light aircraft. Photograph: Metropolitan Fire Brigade/AFP

The US embassy has confirmed that four American citizens were killed.

The state premier, Daniel Andrews, said it was the worst civil aviation disaster in Victoria for 30 years, and commended the work of emergency service personnel who attended the scene.

Essendon airport and the DFO centre have been closed to allow for investigations by the coroner and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau. Only police, ambulance and firefighting planes, which are based at Essendon, were given clearance to fly. Debris-strewn lanes of the Tullamarine freeway were also closed to traffic.

Commercial charter flight

Authorities confirmed earlier that the plane was a commercial charter flight bound for the island in the Bass Strait. The Beechcraft Super King Airplane, owned by Myjet, had been hired by Corporate and Leisure Travel.

The fireball sent one of the aircraft’s wheels on to the Tullamarine freeway, Fairfax Radio reported, and police closed the Tullamarine and Calder freeways as a plume of black smoke covered the area.

Witnesses said on Twitter they had seen a large explosion followed by a plume of black smoke.

A caller to ABC Melbourne, Jason, said he was in a taxi when he looked out the window and saw the plane.

‘Massive fireball’

“I saw this plane coming in really low and fast. It went just behind the barriers so I couldn’t see the impact but when it hit the building there was a massive fireball,” he told ABC 774.

“I could feel the heat through the window of the taxi, and then a wheel, it looked like a plane wheel, bounced on the road and hit the front of the taxi as we were driving along. We kept driving and there was big fireball behind us.”

A light aircraft exploded in a “massive fireball” with police saying none of the five people aboard survived. Photograph: Metropolitan Fire Brigade/AFP/Getty Images
The aircraft exploded in a 'massive fireball' with none of the five people aboard surviving. Photograph: Metropolitan Fire Brigade/AFP

A woman who dropped her daughter off at the Spotlight store in the shopping complex on Tuesday morning told Fairfax Radio her daughter had said the store was on fire but that all staff were unharmed.

Debris from the crash was found up to 100 metres away, Seven News reported.

Aviation safety investigators have begun examining the wreckage.

“It will be very difficult because the aircraft was carrying a great amount of fuel, because it was starting a flight, so there’s a lot of gas and a lot of fire,” said a University of South Australia aviation lecturer, Dr Douglas Drury.

Dr Drury said the King Air plane was highly regarded by pilots: “The King Air is a very robust aircraft. It’s been in operation for a number of years, flown thousands of hours around the globe. It’s a trusted aircraft.”

Residents of King Island have been left shaken by the crash. “Because we all fly, it shakes us,” said the mayor, Duncan McFie.

He said golf tourism was “critically important” to the island of fewer than 2,000 people, and in the past 12 to 18 months, with the opening of two new courses, it had become an international golfing destination.

The Guardian