Pilot, 4 American tourists killed when plane crashes into mall in Australia

A small plane crashed into a shopping center near an airport outside Melbourne, Australia's second-largest city, on Tuesday (February 21) and officials said an unknown number of people may have been killed.

A witness to the incident told 3AW's Neil Mitchell, "I saw a ball of flames".

It comes as the fifth victim of the doomed flight has been identified as 67-year-old Texas retiree John Washburn.

Spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters at the start of a White House press conference on Wednesday (Melbourne time) that "the President's thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims and the USA embassy and consulate are ready to provide necessary and appropriate assistance".

According to The Australian, two years ago Quartermain came within 90 metres of colliding with another landing plane after experiencing Global Positioning System tracking difficulties in cloudy conditions.

Steven Leane, Victoria's Assistant Police Commissioner, says the pilot tried to turn back after realising there was a problem with the engine, but couldn't.

Witnesses recalled seeing a fireball, explosions and billowing black smoke.

The twin-engine Beechcraft Super King Air crashed about 45 minutes before the Direct Factory Outlet mall in Essendon was due to open, Police Minister Lisa Neville said.

Pictures from above the crash site show clear damage to the roof of the shopping centre.


A spokeswoman for the mall's Spotlight store said part of its warehouse and dispatch area was also hit.

She said she had no information on injuries at this stage.

'But certainly, if we look at the circumstances, we have been very lucky today, depending on the time of day and who was around'.

The tragedy is Victoria's worst 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".

The plane was a charter flight to King Island in Bass Strait between the Australian mainland and the southern island state of Tasmania.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau will take over responsibility for the investigation on Tuesday afternoon. Fire crews who attended the scene took 1.5 hours to extinguish the intense blaze, caused by the plane's load of aviation fuel, that the crash sparked.

Schools and freeways nearby were temporarily shut after the crash. The highway remained closed inbound from M80 Ring Road to Pascoe Vale Rd/Bell St at 1pm local time (3pm NZT).

Three of the five people killed in an explosive plane crash in Melbourne, Australia have been identified as Texans, according to media reports.

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