A charter flight with five people on board has crashed into a major retail centre on Melbourne’s outskirts.
Victorian premier Daniel Andrews said “a number of people have died” in Victoria’s worst civil aviation accident in 30 years.
“Our thoughts, our prayers, our best wishes and our support go to all of those who have been caught up in this. A number of people have died. We are currently reaching out to their families to provide them with the support that they need to try to comfort them at what must be just such a horrible moment,” the premier said.
Victoria Police assistant commissioner Stephen Leane said it appears that only those on board the plane were killed.
“[It] looks like no-one has survived the crash,” he said.
“At this stage the advice we have is there are no fatalities other than on the aircraft itself. At this very moment we have people speaking with relatives,” he said.
He described the crash as catastrophic and there are issues around the structural integrity of the building.
UPDATE: Pilot Max Quartermain, 63, and four Americans, including Greg De Haven, 70, a former FBI agent, and lawyer Russell Munsch, both from Texas, are among the dead.
Witnesses say they saw the plane come in fast and low before a fireball rose into the sky. Eyewitness Matthew Coulburn told ABC radio an “enormous” 200m fireball rose into the sky after the plane “nose-dived” and “took a very sharp turn into the building”. There are also reports debris landed on the busy Tullamarine Freeway, the city’s key northbound connection between the city and main airport.
The Beechcraft charter flight bound for King Island in Bass Strait, between Victoria and Tasmania, was taking off from the southern end of Melbourne’s Essendon airport around 9am.
The plane involved was a Beechcraft B200 Super King Air.
The pressurised twin-engine turbo prop has a cruising speed of 480km/h and 2000km range and can carry up to 8 passengers and 2 crew.
The Beechcraft King Air is a popular private aircraft flown by hobby pilots and charter services all over the world and is renowned for its reliability.
Australian Corporate Jet Centre CEO Vas Nikolovski told Business Insider that the flight was operated by Corporate and Leisure Travel PL and Max Quartermain.
“They hired the aircraft direct from the owners My Jet in Bendigo,” he said.
Business Insider understands the plane was not the Beechcraft Quartermain usually operated for Corporate and Leisure Travel, the company he ran with his wife.
Victoria police superintendent Mick Frewen said the plane gained “a slight degree of altitude” and that the pilot issued a mayday call saying there was catastrophic engine failure.
Flight path of the aircraft. Possibly catastrophic engine failure.
— Matt Di Toro (@matt_ditoro) February 20, 2017
Victoria Police say they are trying to establish how many people were inside the DFO shopping complex, on the airport’s perimeter.
Essendon’s Direct Factory Outlet is visited by thousands of shoppers every day, but does not open until 10am.
Angus McNaughton, CEO and MD of Vicinity Centres, which operates DFO Essendon, said it was a tragic day for his community
” On behalf of everyone at Vicinity Centres and our thoughts and deepest sympathies are with those who have lost their lives today and their families.
“This has affected us all deeply. The welfare of the community and our team members remains paramount, and we are providing ongoing support to those who need it.
McNaughton said the Homemaker Centre where the accident occurred, and the adjacent DFO Centre, will remain closed until further notice.
Firefighters battled flames inside a storage area for Focus on Furniture and JB Hi-Fi for more than an hour before bringing the fire under control.
Around 13 units and 90 firefighters dealt with the blaze.
— Paul Stacchino (@MFBChief) February 20, 2017
— MFB (@MFB_NEWS) February 20, 2017
The airport is about 8km from Tullamarine and was Melbourne’s original international airport up until 1970, 13km from the city. It has two runways and is best remembered as the site where the Beatles touched down for their 1964 tour. Essendon Fields still runs as a public airport for commercial, corporate-jet, charter and general aviation. It’s also the base for Victoria’s emergency services aircraft, which have been given special dispensation to continue operating while the airport is closed.
In recent years, part of Essendon Fields has been developed into a retail hub, with the DFO site built just off the runway and right beside the tarmac. The airport is now also surrounded by residential development.
King Island is a remote but popular tourism destination that is famed for its beef and cheese. Two new golf courses opening up in the past year has also seen a boom in flights to and from the island.
— Belinda (@pelagonianprncs) February 20, 2017
Police sat the outbound lanes towards Tullamarine have been reopened, but inbound lanes on the freeway will be closed for some time and motorists should find alternative routes.
VicRoads said the freeway is closed between English Street and McNamara Avenue. Motorists are being asked to exit the freeway as soon as possible. Bulla Road is also closed.
The Calder Freeway is also closed between Pascoe Vale Road and McNamara Avenue.
— ABC News 24 (@ABCNews24) February 20, 2017
Opposition leader Bill Shorten’s electorate is not far from the site.
Horrific scenes from Essendon. Hard to fathom such an ordinary morning could turn so tragic.
— Bill Shorten (@billshortenmp) February 20, 2017
The Air Transport Safety Bureau is investigating and appealing for witnesses. Four investigators have been sent to the site and are waiting for the all clear from emergency services to gain access.
ATSB investigating accident involving Super King Air aircraft at Essendon Airport, Melb. Witnesses pls call 1800 020 616. More to follow.
— ATSB (@atsbinfo) February 20, 2017
As Plane Talking editor Ben Sandilands points out, today’s accident has occurred on the 37th anniversary of a similar accident involving a Beech Super King Air 200 at Sydney Airport, which killed the pilot and 12 passengers.
Here are photos of the scene at Essendon on on Tuesday morning.
— Jimmy Traffic (@JimmyTraffic) February 20, 2017
— Jimmy Traffic (@JimmyTraffic) February 20, 2017
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