A horrific air crash and explosion at Melbourne’s Essendon airport this morning that claimed the lives of all four passengers and the pilot of the Beechcraft aircraft that had just taken off for King Island included the founding partner of a US injury law practice.
The chartered twin-engine plane crashed into the roof of the DFO homemaker centre opposite the airfield on the busy Tullamarine Freeway at around 9 am.
Some tenants rushed to the inferno that erupted from the JB Hi-Fi outlet and Spotlight Superstore while others looked on in shock. It sounded like “like a bomb going off” they said.
Debris from the explosive impact hit passing cars commuting along the Freeway.
No injuries to persons on the ground have been reported other than outright shock from the calamitous scene.
Witnesses said the aircraft departed on runway 17 to the South and veered left shortly after becoming airborne.
Initial reports attributed the crash to the failure of the left engine immediately on alighting from the runway, giving the pilot no prospect of configuring the aircraft for a safe single-engine climb or even of attempting an emergency landing.
The plane nosedived into the rear of the Homemaker Centre. It is thought all passengers were flying to King Island for a round of golf.
Bystanders tried to put out the flames with extinguishers but were forced back as the inferno intensified and engulfed vehicles parked nearby.
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Confirmation came from the US State Department has verified reports 4 American citizens were aboard.
“We extend our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of all those who died in today’s tragic crash,” a State Department official said, adding consulate officials would be on hand to assist. “We stand ready to provide all appropriate consular assistance to the families of the victims. “Out of respect for the privacy of the families, we have no further comment.”
Two of the victims have been confirmed from Texas. They are Dallas lawyer Russel Munsch was a founding partner of the Munsch Hardt Kopf & Harr law firm and Greg De Haven, a retired FBI agent.
It is believed the deceased pilot Max Quartermain – and experienced airman – has held an Air Operations Certificate for more than 38 years.
Quartermain and his wife ran the company that operated the flight, Corporate and Leisure Aviation. He managed to make the mayday call before the aircraft lost power due to a “catastrophic engine failure” shortly after takeoff.
The crash has been sighted as the worst crash in Victoria in 30 years since an ambulance aircraft went down.
There are police and emergency service workers are the crash site with debris scattered around the impact zone for up to 200m.
Investigators are combing the area and collecting evidence to establish what exactly went wrong.