Five people were killed after a small plane crashed into a shopping mall in the Australian city of Melbourne Tuesday, officials said. Four Americans were on board the twin-engine Beechcraft Super King Air plane, the U.S. State Department said in a statement.
The charter flight was scheduled to arrive in King Island in Bass Strait between the Australian mainland and the southern island state of Tasmania, Victoria state Police Minister Lisa Neville said. The plane went down less than an hour before the Direct Factory Outlet mall, which adjoins the airport, in suburban Essendon, was to open, Neville added.
The pilot has been identified as Max Quartermain, a veteran aviator aged in his 60s from Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. Quartermain, who is the co-owner of Corporate and Leisure Aviation — which owned the plane — has been described on the company's website as someone with over 38 years of charter experience and "an impeccable safety record."
Two of the four American victims were identified as Greg De Haven and Russell Munsch, both from Texas, according to the Australian.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull expressed his grief over the tragic incident, which is believed to be Victoria's worst civil aviation accident in 30 years.
Essendon Airport CEO Chris Cowan said in a statement that both the airport and the shopping center were closed following the crash and an investigation has begun.
"Essendon Airport expresses its deepest condolences to the families of those tragically deceased in the incident this morning," the statement read. "Essendon Airport is providing its full co-operation with emergency services and investigators into the cause of the incident and we thank the emergency services for all their efforts. At this stage, we can confirm the aircraft was involved in a routine departure from Runway 17 at 8.58am. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) is investigating the incident."
Eyewitness reported to local media that they saw a flash before the plane burst into a "massive fireball." Photos surfaced on social media showing the scene of the crash.