Three dead, one missing in light plane crash near Geelong, Australia

A police boat recovers three bodies after a plane crash in Barwon Heads, near Geelong, Australia.

A police boat recovers three bodies after a plane crash in Barwon Heads, near Geelong, Australia.

Police believe three men and a woman have been killed in a light plane crash off the coast of Victoria, Australia.

Three bodies have been recovered from the water, but it is feared another person has been killed and is yet to be located.

As debris began washing ashore near Point Lonsdale on Friday afternoon, disaster victim identification police arrived along with the coroner to begin the grim forensic examination.

The search of the area was called off for the night just before 8pm (10pm NZT).

Inspector Graham Banks, of Geelong police, said a fisherman had seen the plane come down at 12.30pm on Friday about two kilometres off the Collendina Beach, which runs between Point Lonsdale and Barwon Heads.

"He called police shortly thereafter. He was in a boat and he went out and observed that clearly a plane had impacted the water and dispersed over a wide area and there were three persons that were clearly deceased at that time," Inspector Banks said.

"The plane believed to be involved was only a small plane so we're hopeful there will be no further persons involved in this incident. However, we have not confirmed that at this stage, so we've still got boats out there searching." 

Inspector Banks said the state's emergency services were also searching beaches to find debris that had washed ashore.

He said police were still trying to confirm the identity of the people on the plane and contact next of kin.

The witness, who was within a kilometre of the crash, heard the roar of the plane's engine before seeing it plunge on its side into the water.

Another fisherman described following an oil slick in the ocean before locating the wreckage, which had sunk to the water's bottom. He, and others, volunteered to help with grid searches to locate parts of the wreckage.

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The plane flew from Moorabbin Airport, but police would not reveal where the plane was headed to. There was no distress call made by the aircraft, which is believed to be a six seater.

The crash site appears to be near the wreck of the HMAS Canberra, a former navy vessel that was sunk to create a dive site in 2009. The main part of the plane has sunk about 30 metres into the ocean.

Boats from several organisations, including Parks Victoria, are assisting in an expanding square search from the initial site in a bid to find debris. Two air ambulance helicopters were sent in response to the crash.

Fishermen Peter Lewry and Graeme McLean said they saw a light plane flying low in the sky off the Queenscliff bay.

"We both commented to each other how low it was coming out of the rain," Lewry said.

"The engine was fine; there was no coughing or spluttering."

He said the conditions for flying were bad. "It was very wet, extremely overcast," he said. 

There were no requests for emergency landing at two of the airports closest to the crash, at Torquay and Barwon Heads.

A spokesman for Barwon Heads Airport said conditions had been "marginal", and that helicopter flights from the aerodrome had been cancelled on Friday because of the weather.

Members of the Ocean Grove Surf Lifesaving Club were assisting at the scene of the crash. 

The Queenscliff boat ramp would be closed on Saturday while police searched the area and assess any wreckage from the crash. 

 - The Age

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