This photo taken by cellphone on Feb. 21, 2017 shows the scene of a plane crash in Melbourne, Australia. The Australian Authorities confirmed that five passengers had died after their light plane crashed into a Melbourne retail outlet on Tuesday Morning. (Xinhua/Gui Qing)
by Matt Goss
SYDNEY, Feb. 21 (Xinhua) -- The Australian Authorities have confirmed that five people are dead after a charter plane crashed into a popular Melbourne shopping center on Tuesday morning.
Witnesses who saw the charter plane crash described a "massive fireball" erupt from a warehouse of the Direct Factory Outlet (DFO) shopping center in Essendon after the plane plunged into it at speed.
Craig Lapsley, Victoria's Emergency Services Commissioner, said five people were on board the plane and none had survived the crash.
"At this stage, the advice we have is there are no fatalities other than on the aircraft itself," Lapsley told reporters on Tuesday afternoon.
The plane left Essendon airport in Melbourne's inner-northern suburbs, at around 0900 a.m. local time on Tuesday and was heading for King Island, a popular golf destination off Tasmania's north-west coast.
Shortly after take-off, the pilot who has been identified as 63-year old Max Quartermain issued a mayday call for what Victoria Police Superintendent Mick Frewen said was "catastrophic engine failure".
Quartermain, who co-owned the company that chartered the flight with his wife Cilia, attempted to turn the plane around and land back at Essendon airport but instead flew straight into the DFO, which sits on a major freeway.
Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Stephen Leane said the tragedy could have been much worse if the shopping center was open at the time of the crash.
"We've been very lucky today depending on the time of day and who was around," Leane said.
Daniel Andrews, Victoria's Premier, said it was "a desperately sad day" for Victoria.
"A number of people have died," Andrews said at a press conference.
"Our thoughts, our prayers, our best wishes and our support go to all of those who have been caught up in this,"
"We are currently reaching out to their families to provide them with the support that they need to try to comfort them at what must be just such a horrible moment."
"Beyond that, there are a number of people who witnessed this terrible accident and they have been given the support, the psychological first aid that they need by Ambulance Victoria."
Andrews said it was Victoria's worst civil aviation disaster in 30 years and commended the work of the emergency service personnel who attended the scene.
Lapsley said the emergency services personnel would be offered psychological support and the state had "learned a lot" from the Bourke Street tragedy, in which six people were killed by a rampaging motorist in the CBD, about managing trauma.
Michael Howard, 29, was at his job as a plumber when he saw a "blue flash" come down over a DFO billboard.
"I was talking to one of the boys and I was just looking out the window towards that way and then all of a sudden I just saw a blue flash come down and then all of a sudden there was a massive fireball," Howard told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on Tuesday.
"(I thought) what the hell? That doesn't happen every day. Yeah it was crazy, it was like something from a movie."
The U.S. Embassy in Canberra said it was working closely with the authorities in Melbourne to help identify the golfers.
"We extend our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of all those who died in today's tragic crash," a spokeswoman told News Limited.
"We are unable to confirm any details about the nationality or identity of any of the victims."
"The U.S. Consulate in Melbourne is working closely with local authorities to assist in any way possible."
Brenton Skinn, the operations manager of Short Stop Jet Charter which also operated out of Essendon airport, said Quartermain was a very experienced pilot.
"(The pilot) is a great guy. It's a very sad day, he's been working from Essendon a very long time," Skinn said.