Five die as plane crashes into Melbourne shopping centre

Wil Longbottom, News Reporter

Five people have been killed after a small plane crashed into a shopping centre near an airport north of Melbourne, Australia.

The Beechcraft plane exploded on impact just before 9am local time, an hour before the Direct Factory Outlet shopping mall was due to open.

Those killed reportedly include four US citizens.

Assistant police commissioner Stephen Leane said: "There were five people on the aeroplane and it looks like nobody's survived the crash."

A taxi driver told ABC radio there was a "massive fireball" after the impact.

He said: "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."

A witness who gave his name as Jason told Australian Broadcasting Corporation he was passing the mall in a taxi when the plane crashed.

"I saw this plane coming in really low and fast. I couldn't see the impact but when it hit the building there was a massive fireball," he said.

"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."

Superintendent Mick Frewen said investigations were centred around a "catastrophic engine failure".

The pilot made a distress call before crashing.

This image made from video shows the site of a plane crash at Essendon Airport in Melbourne, Australia Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. An official says a light plane has crashed into a shopping mall in the city of Melbourne. (Channel 9 via AP)

He has been named in local reports as Max Quartermain, who was in his 60s and owned the company that ran the charter flight.

Video showed smoke billowing from the mall near Essendon Airport, with firefighters hosing down the burning wreckage of the aircraft and nearby buildings.

Essendon Airport is a small field used mainly by light aircraft.

The charter flight came down on its way to King Island in Bass Strait, which is between the mainland and Tasmania.

Flights from Melbourne's main airport have not been affected by the crash.

State premier Daniel Andrews said: "A number of people have died as a result of what is the worst civil aviation accident that our state has seen for 30 years."

Greg Reynolds De Haven and Russell Munsch, a lawyer from Texas, have been identified by their families on social media as among those who died.

Mr DeHaven's sister Denelle Wicht confirmed her brother's death on Facebook, writing: "Dear friends and family, my handsome athletic big brother was killed today in a plane accident while on his 'once in a lifetime' trip to Australia."

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