Published: Wed, February 22, 2017
Economy | By Melissa Porter

Five feared dead after plane crashes into Melbourne shopping centre

Several people died aboard a light aircraft that smashed into a shopping centre near the Australian city of Melbourne on Tuesday (Feb 21), the state premier said.

The plane suffered "catastrophic engine failure" shortly after takeoff, according to emergency workers, and the pilot put in mayday calls before crashing into the Direct Factory Outlet (DFO) shopping centre. "At this stage we do not have information regarding possible casualties".

He confirmed it was a charter flight, but said Essendon Airport had not confirmed the ownership or passenger list with police.

Through a written statement on its website, DFO said it will remain closed for the day and will "reopen for trade" on Wednesday, Feb. 22.

Spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters at the start of a White House press conference on Wednesday (Melbourne time) that "the President's thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims and the United States embassy and consulate are ready to provide necessary and appropriate assistance".

Two victims from the United States have been identified as Greg De Haven and Russell Munsch.

The plane crashed into the side of the DFO shopping centre, causing fire to break out with images from the scene showing black smoke billowing into the air.

Another witness, Carmel Brown told reporters: "There was a big crash and then a big red fireball, like a mushroom".

The crash occurred in very close proximity to the runway the plane took off from.

Police gather in the DFO auto park shortly after the crash. Victoria Police and the experts of the Australian Security Bureau have arrived at the scene of the accident and are conducting an investigation.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull expressed his grief over the tragic incident, which is believed to be Victoria's worst civil aviation accident in 30 years.

The shopping centre also has significant structural damage and officials want to make sure the surface of the freeway has not been damaged.

The flight history for the Beechcraft aircraft shows seven flights this month, including its latest from Adelaide International Airport to Essendon on February 4.

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