Four US tourists and pilot killed in Melbourne plane crash
An Australian pilot and four American tourists on a golfing holiday were killed when a plane crashed into a suburban shopping centre and burst into flames shortly after take-off in Melbourne, officials have said.
The twin-engine Beechcraft Super King Air crashed about 45 minutes before the Direct Factory Outlet shopping centre in Essendon was due to open, police minister Lisa Neville said.
The US embassy in Canberra confirmed that four victims were US 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.
Mr 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.
Mr Munsch was a founding partner of Texas law firm Munsch Hardt, which said in a statement that he litigated some of the most prominent bankruptcy cases in the US, including the 2001 bankruptcy proceedings for Houston-based Enron, 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, said.
An energy consulting firm in Austin, Texas, confirmed its former chief executive 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, CLEAResult co-founder Jim Stimmel described Mr Garland as a "visionary" when it came to finding efficiencies in producing and providing energy.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said at a briefing that President Donald Trump's "thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims" and that US 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 kilometres (160 miles) to the south, when it crashed into the adjoining shopping centre, 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," Mr Leane said.
The pilot reported a "catastrophic engine failure" moments before the plane crashed into a storage area at the rear of the shopping centre, 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 Corporation he was passing the shopping centre 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.