Four American golfing buddies and their Australian pilot were killed early Tuesday when their small aircraft crashed into a shopping mall just after taking off from an airfield outside Melbourne, Australia's second-largest city. It then burst into flames less than an hour before the mall was set to open.
The Americans were identified as Texans Greg Reynolds De Haven, Russell Munsch, Glenn Garland and John Washburn, Melbourne’s Herald Sun reported.
The pilot was Max Quartermain, owner of the charter company Corporate and Leisure Travel.
Trip of 'a lifetime'
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. She said he was a retired FBI agent who had served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.
Munsch was a founding partner in the Texas law firm of Munsch Hardt, which said in a statement Tuesday that he had litigated some of the most prominent bankruptcy cases in the U.S., including the 2001 bankruptcy proceedings for Houston-based Enron Corp., one of the largest energy companies in the world before its collapse. He would have turned 62 on Wednesday.
Garland retired in 2015 as the CEO of green energy firm CLEAResult Consulting Inc. in Austin.
Washburn was a former general counsel at Sammans Enterprises in Dallas, the Austin American-Statesman reported. After retirement, he lived next door to Munsch.
'Catastrophic engine failure'
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said at a briefing Tuesday that President Donald Trump's “thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims” and that U.S. 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 kilometers to the south, when it crashed into the adjoining mall, 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.”
The pilot reported a “catastrophic engine failure” moments before the plane crashed into a storage area at the rear of the mall, police said.