Five feared dead after plane crashes into Melbourne shopping centre

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 February, 2017, 9:19am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 February, 2017, 10:47pm

Five people are feared dead after a plane crashed into a shopping centre in the southern Australian city of Melbourne, setting the building ablaze.

The light aircraft crashed into the DFO shopping centre at Essendon and exploded about 9am on Tuesday. Victoria’s police minister has confirmed there were five people on board the plane.

Victoria police superintendent Mick Frewan said at a press conference 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 at a press conference on Tuesday.

“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 crashed into the back of a furniture store and a electronics store.

He confirmed it was a charter flight, but said Essendon Airport had not confirmed the ownership or passenger list with police.

The explosion sent one of the aircraft wheels on to the adjacent Tullamarine Freeway, Fairfax Radio has reported, and police have closed the Tullamarine and Calder Freeways as a plume of black smoke covers the area.

Frewen said there was extensive debris on the freeway and the roads would remained closed until the Civil Aviation Safety Authority could investigate.

Witnesses on Twitter said they saw a large fireball followed by a plume of black smoke.

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.”

The shopping centre is on the edge of Essendon airport. It is understood the plane crashed into stores on the edge of the shopping centre, which does not open to the public until 10am.

A woman who dropped her daughter off at the Spotlight store on Tuesday morning told Fairfax Radio her daughter confirmed the plane had crashed into that store and it was on fire, but that all staff were unharmed.

The plane was reportedly a five-person Beechcraft charter plane on its way to King Island.

Ambulance Victoria said earlier reports that it was an air ambulance were incorrect.

Victorian premier Daniel Andrews skipped a caucus meeting on Tuesday morning to be briefed on the crash.

The opposition leader, Bill Shorten, tweeted his condolences.

Debris from the crash was found up to 100m away, Seven News reported.