Police reported all five individuals on board have died after the plane smashed into a shopping center shortly after take off. Authorities suspect engine failure may have caused the accident.
All five individuals aboard the Beechcraft light aircraft that smashed into an outlet shopping complex Tuesday have perished in the accident, Victoria police said. The crash occured shortly after the plane took off from the Essendon Fields airport around 9 a.m. local time (23.00 UTC), causing an explosion and significant damage to the building and surrounding area.
The retail complex had not yet opened for the day at the time of accident, and authorities confirmed that no one was inside the building at the time of impact.
Police Assistant Commissioner Stephen Leane expressed amazement that the casualties had not been higher. "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," Leane said.
Victoria Premier David Andrews called the crash the state's worst air accident in the past thirty years.
"Today's a desperately sad day for our state, a very, very sad day for our state," Andrews said at a press conference. "A number of people have died as a result of the what is the worst civil aviation accident that our state has seen for 30 years."
Witnesses described a "massive fireball" as the plane hit the building, follwed by debris and plane parts flying onto the nearby highways and a rising cloud of black smoke. Firefighters and emergency responders were dispatched to the scene immediately after the addicent.
Preliminary investigations are centering on possible engine failure. The plane sent out a May-Day signal shortly before crashing, Victoria police reported.
Previous reports that the plane was an ambulance aircraft were incorrect.
Essendon airport, located some 16 kilometers (10 miles) north of Melbourne, is mostly used for small airplanes.
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cmb/jm (dpa, AFP, AP)