Melbourne crash pilot was under probe for near collision

SYDNEY • The pilot of a plane that crashed into a Melbourne shopping centre on Tuesday was already under investigation over a "near collision".

Mr Max Quartermain, 63, and his four American passengers were killed after the charter plane that they were on ploughed into the Direct Factory Outlet (DFO) shopping centre in Essendon, in Melbourne's north.

Witnesses of the crash described seeing a "massive fireball" erupt from the crash site as debris was scattered across the nearby Tullamarine motorway.

The plane experienced "catastrophic engine failure" soon after taking off from Essendon Airport.

It had been bound for King Island, a popular golf tourist destination.

The passengers have been identified as Texan businessmen John Washburn, Greg De Haven, Russell Munsch and Glenn Garland, who had been "on a trip of a lifetime" to play in the world's best golf courses.

Mr Quartermain was the subject of an investigation by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, which was probing a near miss with another plane at Mount Hotham, 350km north-east of Melbourne, in September 2015.

A summary of the investigation said that Mr Quartermain's plane came within 100m of hitting another plane mid-air in bad weather. The plane was said to have experienced "tracking difficulties" as it approached Mount Hotham.

Meanwhile, Mr Benjamin Morgan, executive director of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, said that planning rules which allowed large buildings to be built near airports meant pilots no longer had the space they needed to manoeuvre in emergencies.

"Distinctly separate from the investigation that will take place now, I do see an issue in the location of DFO," Mr Morgan told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation yesterday.

"The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, over the last two decades, has been advocating quite strongly to the government and various stakeholders that there has been far too much commercial and industrial development that is simply incompatible with aviation."

The tragedy has reignited calls for the airport to be closed permanently, but the state's premier, Mr Daniel Andrews, said that Essendon Airport was an important transport hub for the state of Victoria.

"There are some people who have wanted Essendon Airport to close for a very long time, and I don't think that's going to happen," Mr Andrews said.

"But if we can make it safer, we all stand ready to do that."

XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2017, with the headline 'Melbourne crash pilot was under probe for near collision'. Print Edition | Subscribe