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Light plane crashes into shopping centre near Melbourne

SYDNEY: A small plane carrying five people crashed into a shopping centre near an airport outside Melbourne, Australia's second-largest city, on Tuesday (Feb 21) and officials said an unknown number of people may have been killed.
"It appears to be a very, very tragic accident that's occurred out here ... that's potentially caused fatalities," Victoria state police minister Lisa Neville told Sky News.
The network broadcast pictures showing smoke billowing from the shopping mall near Essendon airport, a small airfield close to Melbourne, and firefighters hosing down the burning wreckage.
Neville said five people were on board the plane, which was a charter flight to King Island in Bass Strait between the Australian mainland and the southern island state of Tasmania.
Police said the plane crashed just before 9.00am (6.00am Singapore time), about an hour before the Direct Factory Outlet shopping mall was due to open.
"At this stage we do not have information regarding possible casualties," Victoria state police said in a statement.
Live television footage showed burnout wreckage, flames and major damage at the shopping centre and adjacent buildings.
A column of thick black smoke rose into the air as witnesses spoke of explosions.
"It appears a light plane, which is a charter flight, has impacted the DFO (Direct Factory Outlet) at Essendon Fields," Neville added.
A taxi driver called ABC radio and told of a "massive fireball".
"I saw this plane ... when it hit the building there was a massive fireball," said the man who identified himself as Jason.
"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."
Victoria police superintendent Mick Frewen said investigations centred on a "catastrophic engine failure".
The flight made a May-Day call before crashing, he added.
A major freeway which runs alongside the local airport to was shut to allow wreckage to be cleared.
Essendon Airport is a small airfield mainly used by light planes. A spokeswoman for Airservices Australia said flights in and out of Melbourne's main airport were not affected.

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