Five people were killed, including four U.S. citizens, when a plane crashed into a shopping complex in suburban Melbourne, Australia, on Tuesday morning, according to police.
The Direct Factory Outlets mall was closed when it was hit by the twin-engine Beechcraft Super King Air, according to media reports. Police say nobody inside the mall at the time was injured.
“Looking at the fireball, it is incredibly lucky that no one was at the back of those stores or in the car park of the stores, that no one was even hurt,” Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Stephen Leane told the BBC.
The U.S. Embassy in Canberra confirmed that four of the victims are U.S. citizens, according to The Associated Press. The pilot was Australian. None of the victims has been formally identified, though one has been named by a relative on social media.
Greg Reynolds de Haven died in the accident, according to a Facebook tribute posted by his sister Denelle Wicht. She said he was on a “‘once in a lifetime’ trip to Australia” and was on “on a charter flight with 2 of his friends to play golf.”
Police believe the plane was bound for Tasmania’s King Island, which is known for its golf courses.
Australia’s ABC News has identified the pilot as 63-year-old Max Quartermain, the co-owner of the company that operated the plane.
This was the “worst civilian aviation accident in 30 years” in the state of Victoria, state premier Daniel Andrews said on Twitter.
It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the plane to crash, and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau has launched an investigation. According to the AP, police said that “the pilot reported a ‘catastrophic engine failure’ moments before the plane crashed into a storage area at the rear of the mall.”
While there were no injuries, police said a “number of people who witnessed the incident were treated for shock at the scene.”
One of those witnesses, identified as Jason, told ABC he was in a taxi when he saw the plane approach. “The plane was coming way, way fast. I thought, that’s faster than normal,” he said. “It looked like it hit the building. There was a massive fireball. I could feel the heat through the window.”
The Essendon Airport said it is currently closed “other than for essential emergency services.”
“Deeply saddened by the tragic accident in Essendon today,” Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in a Twitter post. “Our hearts & prayers are with the victims and their families.”