MELBOURNE,21 FEBRUARY 2017 (THE GUARDIAN) —A plane that crashed into a shopping centre near Essendon airport in Melbourne, killing five people, had a “catastrophic engine failure” shortly after takeoff, police have said.
The twin-engine aircraft, with five people on board, left the airport about 9am on Tuesday on its way to King Island.
“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.
Leane said there had been “a number of fatalities” but none of the staff at the shopping centre – which was not yet open to the public – were believed to have been killed.
At this stage the advice we have is there are no fatalities other than on the aircraft itself,” he said, adding: “There were five on the aircraft and looks like no one has survived the crash.”
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 shopping centre have been closed indefinitely to allow for investigations by the coroner and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.
Only police, ambulance, and firefighting planes, which are based at Essendon, have been given clearance to fly.
Victoria’s police minister confirmed earlier on Tuesday that the plane was a commercial charter flight bound for King Island in the Bass Strait.
Andrews said he had spoken to his Tasmanian counterpart, Will Hodgman, about how the closure of the airport might affect freight routes.
Police have opened the outbound lanes of the Tullamarine Freeway but the inbound lanes, which are covered with debris from the crash, remain closed.
The emergency management commissioner, Craig Lapsley, said psychological support would be provided to emergency services personnel and witnesses to the crash, saying the government had “learned a lot from Bourke Street” about managing trauma.
Counselling services were offered in the wake of last month’s Bourke Street tragedy, which led to the deaths of six people.
Superintendent Mick Frewan said at a press conference earlier on Tuesday that police had not been able to confirm any fatalities and did not know how many people may have been in the shopping centre when the crash occurred.“We have been unable to assess the scene because the fire is still burning,” Frewen said.
“As soon as the MFP [Metropolitan Fire Brigade] put out the fire we will do an assessment on the structural integrity of the building, and then we will send in people to check for injuries or fatalities.”
Frewen said the plane had crashed into the back of a furniture store and a JB Hi-Fi store. He confirmed it was a charter flight, but said Essendon airport had not confirmed the ownership or passenger list with police.
A caller to ABC Melbourne, Jason, said he was in a taxi when he looked out the window and saw what he thought was a twin-propeller plane.
“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.”….PACNEWS [/restrict]