It was supposed to be a dream vacation, but for the families of a group of American friends, the vacation turned to tragedy. Four American tourists and their Australian pilot died on February 21, when the charter plane they were in crashed into a shopping mall in Melbourne, Australia. The Beechcraft B200 King Air reportedly crashed shortly after it took off from Essendon Airport in Melbourne. Charter airlines are often not subject to the same regulations as commercial carriers and tend to be involved in more crashes than commercial planes.
Cause of Australian Plane Crash Under Investigation
The plane reportedly crashed at around 9:00 a.m. local time, before the Direct Factory Outlet Essendon shopping center was open for the day. Luckily, because the mall was closed at the time of the crash no one on the ground was injured in the tragedy, which officials called the worst aviation accident in 30 years in the state of Victoria. Although no one on the ground was injured, some witnesses were reportedly treated for shock.
According to reports, the chartered plane was scheduled to take its passengers to King Island for a golfing trip. Just prior to the crash, the pilot reported “catastrophic engine failure,” in two mayday calls from the plane.
“It was a catastrophic plane crash that has taken a number of lives,” said Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Stephen Leane. “But certainly if we look at the circumstances, we’ve been very lucky today depending on the time of day and who was around.”
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau is investigating the cause of the small Beechcraft plane crash and will interview more than 100 witnesses. A report is expected later in March. The plane will not be reconstructed, but authorities have the cockpit voice recorder, eyewitnesses, and maintenance records to aid in the investigation.
“We’ll look at maintenance records, the history of the pilot, the history of aircraft…at this very early stage, we’re not going to speculate in relation to any specific part of the investigation,” said Australian Transport Safety Bureau Chief Commissioner Greg Hood.
Few details about the crash have emerged, but some news outlets have reported that the Beechcraft B200 lost power in one engine-speculation is that it was the left engine-and that when the power was lost the landing gear was still down. Having the landing gear down as it climbs slows the plane and creates drag. If the plane’s engine was lost in the second or two after takeoff, there may have been no way for the pilot to bring up the landing gear.
After takeoff, the plane veered to the left, either because of the loss of an engine or because the pilot deliberately steered away from buildings and the freeway.
Four Americans Died in Melbourne Plane Crash
The four American men who died in the plane crash were friends from Texas and were together on a trip of a lifetime with their wives. Among those who died:
- Glenn Garland, a former CEO of CLEAResult, a company that specializes in energy efficiency;
- Greg Reynolds De Haven, a 70-year-old former FBI agent;
- Russell Munsch, who had just retired from his law career after co-founding a law firm; and
- John Washburn, a former lawyer.
In a joint statement from the families of the victims, the wives-none of whom was onboard the plane because they were supposed to travel to Great Ocean Road-thanked authorities for their support.
“We are devastated by the loss of these men-these gentlemen-our husbands, our fathers, and our treasured friends,” the statement reads. “We can’t say enough about the assistance, support, and warmth shown to us by the Australian authorities, the US Consulate, and the people of Melbourne, who have taken us in and treated us so kindly.”
Pilot Remembered by Aviation Community
Pilot Max Quartermain also died in the Melbourne plane crash. Quartermain, who was 63-years-old, was the co-owner of Corporate and Leisure Travel, a charter company. He held an Air Operations Certificate for more than 38 years and had recently passed Civil Aviation Safety Authority safety checks following a near-miss in 2015.
In that incident, the plane Quartermain was flying and another plane came within one nautical mile horizontally and 90 meters vertically of each other. Quartermain’s plane landed on the runway, but in the wrong direction.
Friends of Quartermain remembered him as a very safe pilot who did not take risks and was highly respected in the aviation community.
Melbourne Plane Crash Similar to Kansas Plane Crash
The Melbourne plane crash is similar to a 2014 plane crash in Wichita, Kansas, also involving a Beechcraft B200 Super Air King. Four people, including the pilot, were killed in that crash, in which the pilot declared an emergency shortly after takeoff from Wichita Mid-Continent Airport. The pilot reported he lost the left engine, made a left turn at less than 150 feet altitude, then crashed into the FlightSafety Cessna Pilots Learning Center.
As with the Melbourne plane crash, witnesses to the Wichita crash said the plane’s landing gear was still down prior to the crash.
A National Transportation Safety Board investigation into the Wichita crash found the probable cause of the accident was “the pilot’s failure to maintain lateral control of the airplane after a reduction in left engine power and his application of inappropriate rudder input.” A contributing factor was the pilot’s failure to follow emergency plane engine failure procedures. Although the investigation listed the loss of left engine power as contributing to the accident, the agency could not determine what would have caused the left engine to lose power.