Veteran Australian pilot Max Quartermain and four elderly men from the USA died in Melbourne after their plane crashed shortly after take off from Essendon airport yesterday.
Quartermain, 63, was a 38-year veteran of flying corporate charters ran Corporate and Leisure Aviation out of Essendon with his wife Cilla and made regular trips to islands in Bass Strait, as well as flying golf trips to Tasmania and the Victorian ski fields.
The company’s website, which has been taken down, said he had an “impeccable safety record”.
Four US men also died in the accident, including former FBI agent Greg De Haven, 70, from Texas.
His sister Denelle Wicht paid tribute to him on Facebook, saying: “my handsome athletic big brother was killed today in a plane accident while on his ‘once in a lifetime’ trip to Australia. It was a charter flight with 2 of his friends flying to another island to play golf.”
Lawyer Russell Munsch, also from Texas, is also among those who perished, but authorities have yet to release the names of the dead.
Quartermain’s company ran a Beechcraft King Super King Air 200, but the plane Quartermain was flying appears to be a different registration to the one advertised on its website.
The pilot is believed to have issued to mayday calls saying he had catastrophic engine failure shortly after take off.
Victoria Police assistant commissioner Stephen Leane said it appears he was attempting to turn around and land when the plane crashed into the DFO factory outlet beside the airport.
“There was an attempt to return to Essendon but has crashed into the DFO at Essendon Fields,” Leane said.
Miraculously, no one in the shopping complex, which was not due to open for an hour, was injured in the crash.
New golf courses on King Island, 246km south of Melbourne in Bass Strait and best known for its beef and cheeses, have boosted tourism numbers over the past year.
Regional airline Rex offers daily scheduled flights to the island from Tullamarine.
Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull tweeted his condolences to those affected.
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
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