22 Feb 2017

Melbourne plane crash company involved in 'near miss'

10:20 am on 22 February 2017

Authorities probing the cause of yesterday's fatal air crash at a shopping centre near Melbourne's Essendon Airport have been investigating a near miss involving the same charter company, it has been revealed.

The plane crashed into the DFO shopping centre in Melbourne.

The plane crashed into the DFO shopping centre in Melbourne. Photo: AFP

Pilot Max Quartermain and four American tourists were killed when their Beechcraft B200 Super King Air experienced engine failure soon after take-off from Essendon Airport on Tuesday.

The plane, which was headed for King Island off Tasmania's north coast, crashed into the DFO shopping centre and exploded into flames.

The ABC reports Mr Quartermain was under investigation by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) after his plane, with a call signal VH-OWN, came within 100m of another aircraft in bad weather at Mt Hotham in September 2015.

An investigation summary reported the plane had "tracking difficulties" on approach to Mt Hotham during a charter flight as low cloud had made conditions difficult.

The summary reads: "VH-OWN was then observed to carry out significant manoeuvring while on short final to the runway before landing."

The final report was due to be released last year, but has been delayed several times. A final report is due in May.

Although Mr Quartermain was not named in the ATSB report, the ABC reported he was ordered to re-do his instrument rating qualifications after the Hotham incident.

"Following the incident at Mount Hotham, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority required the pilot to undergo some additional proficiency checks. They were done, the pilot passed those checks," a CASA spokesman said.

"And in subsequent checks done prior to yesterday's flight... the pilot has passed all of those."

Authorities said the cause of the crash near Essendon Airport was still under investigation.

Smoke from the plane crash scene could be seen across Melbourne

Smoke from the plane crash scene could be seen across Melbourne. Photo: ABC / Supplied

Friends say pilot was highly respected

Mr Quartermain was the co-owner of Corporate and Leisure Aviation, which operated the plane.

The company's website said he had more than 38 years of charter experience and "an impeccable safety record".

At least three friends of Mr Quartermain contacted the ABC yesterday and described him as being a highly respected and trusted pilot.

CASA records showed the plane which crashed at Essendon yesterday, with the call sign VH-ZCR, was registered with Australian Corporate Jet Centres at Essendon.

When contacted last night, the ABC was referred to the company's chief executive, Vas Nikolovski, who did not return calls.

Some 'commercial development incompatible with aviation'

Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association executive director Benjamin Morgan said planning rules which had allowed large buildings close to airport runways meant pilots no longer had space in the case of emergencies.

"Distinctly separate from the investigation that will take place now, I do see an issue in the location of DFO," he told ABC Radio Melbourne.

"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.

"I think that what we're looking at here is not isolated to Essendon, it is replicated at many airports around the country and it has come as the result of airport privatisation and it's a very sad outcome."

Mr Morgan said both private and commercial flights, however, were subject to stringent checks.

"Certainly the Beechcraft King Air is renowned globally as being a very reliable and safe aircraft," he said.

Police said it would be several more days before air safety investigators finished examining the scene after the crash.

Essendon Airport and the shopping centre will be closed while investigations continue.

- ABC

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