The light plane that crashed into a Melbourne shopping centre, killing five, was shaking before it plunged into the building and exploded, a witness says.
As some ran for their lives, residents and workers at a nearby building site rushed to the DFO shopping centre, near Essendon Airport, the scene of Victoria’s worst civil aviation accident in 30 years.
But they could only watch in horror as the “fireball” raged metres away.
The tragedy claimed the life of Max Quartermain, long-time pilot and co-owner of Corporate and Leisure Aviation, and four American tourists believed to be headed for the island to play golf.
Fairfax Media reported that two of the men were Greg De Haven and Russell Munsch, both from Texas. Several sources identified a third passenger as entrepreneur and investor Glenn Garland.
Miraculously, no one on the ground was killed.
The Beechcraft Super King twin-engine aircraft, bound for King Island, off Tasmania’s north-west coast, crashed shortly after take off at 9am on Tuesday.
The plane called mayday twice as it ascended to about 30m, but appeared to be affected by a “catastrophic engine failure”, according Victoria Police Superintendent Mick Frewen.
It crashed into the back of two shops, Focus on Furniture and JB Hi Fi, he said.
Watch the plane’s final moments
— TEN Eyewitness News (@channeltennews) February 21, 2017
The Tullamarine Freeway and the Calder Freeway were re-opened inbound at about 2.30pm.
VicRoads advised commuters that the Bulla Road entry ramp inbound would “remain closed indefinitely”.
Nick Scali employee Grace Martin, 28, said she was sitting outside the shopping complex when she spotted the aircraft coming.
“I saw the plane flying across the top of the roof and it was shaking,” she told The New Daily.
“I ran across to Dan Murphy’s. I heard the big bang and saw all the flames. This is just really sad.”
Ms Martin earlier told reporters: “If it had been a metre lower I wouldn’t be here to be honest.”
Another witness, Carmel Brown told reporters: “There was a big crash and then a big red fireball, like a mushroom.”
See dramatic photos from the aftermath of the crash
Workers at a nearby construction site dropped their tools and headed straight for the horror “like an army”, resident Max Paladino told The New Daily.
Mr Paladino, who ran to the scene with them, said the group of about 15 had hoped to help.
“It was just adrenaline,” he said. “There was no way possible we could do anything. You could feel the heat.”
“Eventually one of them said, ‘this could blow up.’ So we left.”
See Mr Paladino’s footage, provided to The New Daily
Police confirmed no one on board the plane survived the tragedy.
Victoria Police assistant commissioner Stephen Leane said it appeared the pilot had tried to return to the runaway shortly after taking off.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said it was “the worst civil aviation accident that our state has seen for 30 years”.
He declined at the press conference to confirm any details of the passengers’ identities.
Flight path of the aircraft. Possibly catastrophic engine failure.
— Matt Di Toro (@matt_ditoro) February 20, 2017
Mr Andrews also paid tribute to emergency services, including about 90 firefighters who worked to extinguish the inferno.
Employees at Spotlight, near where the plane is believed to have made impact, were inside at the time, according to a spokeman, but all were accounted for.
Emotional staff members were met by loved ones as they emerged from the shopping centre.
— Luke Henriques-Gomes (@lukehgomes) February 21, 2017
Debris was also strewn onto the Tullamarine Freeway, which runs next to the shopping centre, with motorists spotting what was believed to the plane’s tyre on the highway.
The Coroner will investigate while the Australian Transport Safety Bureau investigators and Civil Aviation Safety Authority will also examine the crash.
The DFO centre isn’t likely to reopen until Wednesday.
Sunny, an employee at Villa and Hut, said he was still in shock.
“I’m feeling really sad. No one wants to have something like this happen at their workplace,” he told The New Daily.
Nearby resident Usha said she ran outside after hearing a loud bang and saw smoke billowing from the shopping centre.
“I’ve never smelt anything like it before. It was like coal burning,” she told The New Daily.
If the details of this incident have caused you concern, please seek help. Call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 224 636.