The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has opened an investigation into the crash of Beechcraft B200 Super King Air VH-ZCR at Essendon Airport on Tuesday due to what Victoria Police has described as a “catastrophic engine failure”.
The accident took place a little after 0900 on Tuesday, with the aircraft crashing shortly after takeoff from Runway 17, according to flight tracking website FlightRadar24:
VH-ZCR, a Beech B200 Super King Air crashed after takeoff from Runway 17 at Essendon, Melbourne, Australia (MEB/YMEN) pic.twitter.com/O2ryh0dqDB
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The aircraft impacted the DFO shopping centre alongside the airport resulting in a major fire. Emergency services – the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, Ambulance Victoria and Victoria Police – were quickly on the scene.
The King Air was operating a private charter flight to King Island and carrying four passengers. All on board the aircraft, pilot Max Quartermain and his four American passengers, died in the accident.
Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Stephen Leane told reporters in Melbourne on Tuesday that the accident happened moments after the aircraft had taken off from Essendon Airport.
“A charter plane, a twin-engine plane left the Essendon Airport and shortly after takeoff had a catastrophic engine failure,” Leane said.
“The pilot has then unfortunately attempted to return to Essendon but has crashed into the DFO at Essendon Fields. We’ve had a significant plane crash.”
Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said it was a “desperately sad day for our state”.
“A number of people have died as a result of what is the worst civil aviation accident that our state has seen for 30 years,” Andrews told reporters.
“Our thoughts, our prayers, our best wishes and our support go to all who have been caught up in this.”
A search on the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) website showed VH-ZCR was manufactured in 1996, with Australian Corporate Jet Centres the registered operator.
Essendon Airport chief executive Chris Cowan said in a statement the airport was “working with all authorities to determine the cause of the incident”.
“Essendon Airport confirms an incident involving a Beechcraft King Air at approximately 9am this morning. The incident occurred on departure from Runway 17,” Cowan said.
“The full extent of casualties is not yet known.”
“Emergency Services have taken control of the situation and Essendon Airport is supporting their response.”
The airport has been closed for all flights other than for essential emergency services, with all traffic diverted to Melbourne and Avalon airports.
Meanwhile, the DFO shopping centre was closed until further notice. Assistant Commissioner Leane said no one in the shopping centre was killed as a result of the accident.
Sections of the Tullamarine and Calder freeways were also closed.
Essendon Airport and its surrounding commercial precinct Essendon Fields are run by Essendon Airport Pty Ltd, a joint-venture company held by Linfox and Beck Corporation. It holds a long-term lease to operate and develop the airport. The lease is for 50 years with an option for a further term of 49 years, ending on June 30 2098.
In addition to being a busy charter airport, Essendon has regular public transport (RPT) service from Free Spirit Airlines, Jetgo and Sharp Airlines, according to the airport’s website, serving regional centres such as Dubbo, Flinders Island and Merimbula. Alliance Airlines also operates charter flights from the airport.
The heritage-listed main passenger terminal was undergoing a $20 million refurbishment due to be completed in late 2017. The airport has also improved runway overlays and built two new hangars in recent times.
The airport is also the home base to about 40 corporate jets and is understood to have the most number of international movements outside of the major airports in Australia.
The likes of ExecuJet and Executive Airlines are based at Essendon, as well as Victoria’s emergency services fleet.
Meanwhile, in addition to the DFO, the Essendon Fields precinct features car dealerships and a 166-room hotel.
The Victorian Premier declined to answer questions regarding whether Essendon Airport should be closed given its proximity to nearby shopping and residential areas.
Those calls are reminiscent of those that arose following a December 1993 incident when a de Havilland DH-104 operating a night charter dinner flight suffered a partial engine failure shortly after takeoff from Essendon Airport’s Runway 17 before it crashing into a residential area adjoining the aerodrome.
The aircraft hit powerlines and crashed into four houses. Thankfully, everyone on board – eight passengers, a flight attendant and the pilot – plus those in their homes survived the accident.
The ATSB report on the 1993 incident can be read on the ATSB website.