Melbourne plane crash: Witnesses saw massive ball of flames after plane hit shopping centre
Five people are dead, including the pilot and four American tourists, after a light plane crashed into an Australian shopping centre.
The charter flight came down on Tuesday morning near Melbourne's Essendon Airport, slamming into the DFO centre. It wasn't open at the time of the crash.
Peter Scullin and his wife had just left the highway, on their way back to Melbourne, and were driving directly under a light plane when it hit the shopping centre.
"There was a massive ball of flame – I could feel the heat even though my wife was driving and I was in the passenger seat with my window closed," said Scullin.
Immediately after, Scullin said, "parts of the plane landed on the beginning of the road on-ramp".
Scullin said the explosion had been "just like you see on ... in a movie, where you see these special effects. The ball of flame went 30 or 40 feet into the air. We got out to see whether the outside of the car had had any paint blistering".
The couple pulled up, amid "a burning smell that was a combination of aviation fuel and an explosion".
"And we thought 'My God, how lucky are we that we are still here?'We both looked at each other and thought that was the closest to death we are going to come."
Soon after, Scullin learnt there were five people on board the plane. "What a terrifying moment on that plane it must have been."
Scullin, a former mayor of a bayside council and a relative of former Prime Minister James Scullin, questioned the wisdom of having allowed the airport to expand with retail uses.
He said the pilot appeared to be trying to gain control of the plane when it hit the corner of the shopping mall.
"But it could just have easily landed in the middle of the mall," he said. "You've got to ask questions about whether this was an accident that was always going to happen."
Daniel May, a witness, said he was waiting for the shopping centre to open, when he saw the plane come down.
"I was chatting to my friend waiting for it to open and then saw the low flying plane come in and crash behind one of the stores," he said. "There was an orange explosion, and then smoke."
He said the plan crashed behind the JB Hi-Fi store.
"It seemed to crash in the space behind those stores and near the off ramp of the highway. There was damage and wreckage and burning behind one of the stores, and it crashed at the back before the highway.
"Emergency crews rushed very quickly in, soon after, and I left the area."
Angelo Tsatas was on the scene and tried to help but couldn't get close enough to the raging flames.
"I heard the engine revving real loud. I saw the plane bank to the left. And then, as you know, it's hit the building and ripped off everything. I screamed out to the boys, ran over with fire extinguishers. But it was just to intense, couldn't get close enough, got about 20 metres away, but there was nothing we could do.
"The fire was higher than the building, and the heat was just too much. And everything was exploding. I think there were gas bottles, there was a car on fire."
Grace Martin was having a coffee when the plane flew directly above her.
"My heart was in my throat," Martin told reporters. "If it had been a metre lower I wouldn't be here to be honest."
Martin said she saw a large hole in the wall at a nearby Spotlight store with water pouring through it.
She said the plane was on an angle when it flew over her and it looked like it only cleared the building by a metre.
"It flew over the top of me and it was shaking on the way down and a metre from the top of the roof.
"That's when I ran away and heard the big crash and saw all the flames."
Ash Mayer, a storeman at The Good Guys, felt the crash reverberate through his building.
"We were just coming off the off-ramp, we felt just everything shake and a massive explosion and a fireball go up," he told AAP.
"We just knew this was bad and there was nothing we could do.
"One of the boys actually saw it go down and he's now left because he can't deal with it."
Caller Frank told 3AW he saw the plane taking off.
"My heart's absolutely racing. I was just driving past under the bridge. As I passed over the runway I saw to my right a small plane. It looked unusual, the way it was taking off did not seem right. And as I looked in my rear-vision mirror I saw a ball of flame – it looks like it's hit the shopping centre.
"It was taking off to the right off the runway, it did not come over the freeway at all."
Debbie told 3AW she could see explosions and fire licking the side of the shopping mall.
"I'm directly opposite the crash. It's just billowing black smoke, it hit a furniture store. There are constant explosions going off, there is black smoke billowing up into the sky, there are flames leaping up the side of the building. It's terrible.
"It hit into the back of the building. Along the freeway side is a driveway for vehicles and loading docks, it's plummeted into the side of the building. There is a gaping hole in the side of the building."
Good Guys worker Ash Mayel was coming down the highway off ramp when he felt the explosion about 100 metres from the crash.
"We felt the shock wave from it," he said.
"The car has shaken. We got out and saw the fireball go up. We thought someone had set off a bomb."
As soon as Mayel was told a plane had crashed into the building, he and his friends tried to get as close as they could to help.
"But the fireball that was there, there was nothing we could do, we couldn't get close to it," he said.
"It's taken off half the building. And then it dawns on you that people are inside there and what can we do? Nothing."
A colleague, who saw the plane crash, was left badly shaken.
"He's gone home, he couldn't deal with it," Mayel said.
Collin Ting works at a local cafe inside the shopping centre food court and said he could see a lot of black smoke coming from near the airport.
"It's quite far from us, but I can see a plane has crashed near the entrance to the airport."
He said he had not yet been told to evacuate.
A long plume of black smoke is billowing out of the crash scene. Eight fire crews are responding, according to a Metropolitan Fire Brigade spokesman.
The plane was a Beechworth King Air chartered for King Island that was being operated by Corporate and Leisure Travel, who had hired it from MyJet, Bas Nikolovski, CEO of Australian Corporate Jets confirmed.
Minister for Police Lisa Neville said debris from the crash was also covering the freeway.
"It appears that a light plane which was a charter flight has impacted the shopping centre out at Essendon Fields. There is also debris that has been left on the highway."
Images on social media appear to show the plane hit the roof of the Essendon shopping centre, which sits on the boundary of Essendon Airport.
Footage from the scene shows firefighters pouring water on a large hole in the centre's roof. Other parts of the roof appear to be on fire.
The plane crashed just before 9am local time, a police spokesman said.
- The Age and AAP