MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — An Australian pilot and four American tourists on a golfing vacation were killed when a light plane crashed into a suburban shopping mall and burst into flames Tuesday, shortly after takeoff in the Australian city of Melbourne, officials said.
The twin-engine Beechcraft Super King Air crashed about 45 minutes before the Direct Factory Outlet mall in Essendon was due to open, Police Minister Lisa Neville said.
The U.S. Embassy in Canberra confirmed that four victims were U.S. citizens. Texans Greg Reynolds De Haven and Russell Munsch have been identified by their families on social media as two of the victims.
The pilot was Max Quartermain, owner of the charter company Corporate and Leisure Travel.
De Haven’s sister Denelle Wicht posted on Facebook that her 70-year-old brother had been killed during “a once in a lifetime trip to Australia” with friends.
Munsch was a founding partner in the Texas law firm of Munsch Hardt, which said in a statement Tuesday that he litigated some of the most prominent bankruptcy cases in the U.S., including the 2001 bankruptcy proceedings for Houston-based Enron Corp., one of the largest energy companies in the world before its collapse. He would have turned 62 on Wednesday.
“He could take something that’s exceedingly complicated and boil it down and present it in a very simple way in court that was easy to understand,” Rick Kopf, another founding partner of the firm, told The Associated Press.
An energy consulting firm in Austin, Texas, confirmed its former CEO and co-founder was also a victim in the crash. Glenn Garland was one of the founders in 2003 of CLEAResult and served as chief executive before retiring in 2015.
In a statement Tuesday, CLEAResult co-founder Jim Stimmel describes Garland as a “visionary” when it came to finding efficiencies in producing and providing energy.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said at a briefing Tuesday that President Donald Trump’s “thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims” and that U.S. Embassy and Consulate officials will provide assistance as the investigation progresses.
The plane had just taken off from Melbourne’s second-biggest airport at Essendon for a golfing trip to King Island, 255 kilometers (160 miles) to the south, when it crashed into the adjoining mall, officials said.
Police Assistant Commissioner Stephen Leane said no one outside the plane 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,” Leane said.
The pilot reported a “catastrophic engine failure” moments before the plane crashed into a storage area at the rear of the mall, police said.
Police and paramedics rushed to the crash site, where firefighters doused the flames.
A witness who gave his name as Jason told Australian Broadcasting Corp. he was passing the mall in a taxi when the plane crashed.
“I saw this plane coming in really low and fast. I couldn’t see the impact but when it hit the building there was a massive fireball,” he said.
“I could feel the heat through the window of the taxi, and then a wheel — it looked like a plane wheel — bounced on the road and hit the front of the taxi as we were driving along,” he said.
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