Light plane crashes near Melbourne in Australia

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SYDNEY, Feb 21 (Reuters) - A small plane carrying five people crashed into a shopping center near an airport outside Melbourne, Australia's second-largest city, on Tuesday 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.

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Plane crashes near Essendon Airport
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Plane crashes near Essendon Airport

A view from the tarmac at Melbourne's Essendon Airport is seen after a charter plane leaving the airport crashed on February 21, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. The charter plane was carrying 5 people when it crashed near the DFO Melbourne Shopping Centre at around 9am this morning. Emergency services are on scene.

(Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

A general view shows damage to the building after a Beechcraft plane crashed into a shopping centre just after tack-off from the Essendon airport in Melbourne on February 21, 2017. A light aircraft carrying five people crashed on February 21 in a 'massive fireball', hitting a shopping centre near the Australian city of Melbourne and sending black smoke billowing into the air, witnesses and officials said.

(MAL FAIRCLOUGH/AFP/Getty Images)

LATEST: Aircraft crashes at DFO near Essendon Airport >> https://t.co/RHxYQXrN9P https://t.co/vnqZdoQOoN
A general view shows the wheel of a Beechcraft plane on a highway after it crashed into a shopping centre just after tack-off from the Essendon airport in Melbourne on February 21, 2017. A light aircraft carrying five people crashed on February 21 in a 'massive fireball', hitting a shopping centre near the Australian city of Melbourne and sending black smoke billowing into the air, witnesses and officials said. / AFP / Mal Fairclough (Photo credit should read MAL FAIRCLOUGH/AFP/Getty Images)

A view from the tarmac at Melbourne's Essendon Airport is seen after a charter plane leaving the airport crashed on February 21, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. The charter plane was carrying 5 people when it crashed near the DFO Melbourne Shopping Centre at around 9am this morning. Emergency services are on scene.

(Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

A plane carrying five people has crashed into a shopping centre next to the #Essendon Airport in Melbourne's north. https://t.co/RaOp3fx45V

A general view shows damage to the building after a Beechcraft plane crashed into a shopping centre just after tack-off from the Essendon airport in Melbourne on February 21, 2017. A light aircraft carrying five people crashed on February 21 in a 'massive fireball', hitting a shopping centre near the Australian city of Melbourne and sending black smoke billowing into the air, witnesses and officials said.

(MAL FAIRCLOUGH/AFP/Getty Images)

#BREAKING: An aircraft has crashed into a building near Essendon Airport in Melbourne. https://t.co/o1GHwzM07v https://t.co/dicXPTYBpX
Investigators stand near damage to the building after a Beechcraft plane crashed into a shopping centre just after tack-off from the Essendon airport in Melbourne on February 21, 2017. A light aircraft carrying five people crashed on February 21 in a 'massive fireball', hitting a shopping centre near the Australian city of Melbourne and sending black smoke billowing into the air, witnesses and officials said. / AFP / Mal Fairclough (Photo credit should read MAL FAIRCLOUGH/AFP/Getty Images)

A view from the tarmac at Melbourne's Essendon Airport is seen after a charter plane leaving the airport crashed on February 21, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. The charter plane was carrying 5 people when it crashed near the DFO Melbourne Shopping Centre at around 9am this morning. Emergency services are on scene.

(Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

Plane crash At DFO near #Essendon airport Just happened black smoke can be seen in Preston #Melbourne https://t.co/9Se0i587nG

A view from the tarmac at Melbourne's Essendon Airport is seen after a charter plane leaving the airport crashed on February 21, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. The charter plane was carrying 5 people when it crashed near the DFO Melbourne Shopping Centre at around 9am this morning. Emergency services are on scene.

(Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

#Essendon https://t.co/PaJfZg7YEC

A view from the tarmac at Melbourne's Essendon Airport is seen after a charter plane leaving the airport crashed on February 21, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. The charter plane was carrying 5 people when it crashed near the DFO Melbourne Shopping Centre at around 9am this morning. Emergency services are on scene.

(Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

The crash sparked a huge blaze, and the area has been evacuated https://t.co/VDbhcIQuET https://t.co/PW8T4JFEVI

A view from the tarmac at Melbourne's Essendon Airport is seen after a charter plane leaving the airport crashed on February 21, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. The charter plane was carrying 5 people when it crashed near the DFO Melbourne Shopping Centre at around 9am this morning. Emergency services are on scene.

(Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

A plane has crashed on approach to Essendon Airport. https://t.co/mAVAMYNcDc
A general view shows damage to the building after a Beechcraft plane crashed into a shopping centre just after tack-off from the Essendon airport in Melbourne on February 21, 2017. A light aircraft carrying five people crashed on February 21 in a 'massive fireball', hitting a shopping centre near the Australian city of Melbourne and sending black smoke billowing into the air, witnesses and officials said. / AFP / Mal Fairclough (Photo credit should read MAL FAIRCLOUGH/AFP/Getty Images)
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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 a.m. (2300 GMT Monday), 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.

Essendon Airport is a small airfield mainly used by light planes. A spokeswoman for AirservicesAustralia said flights in and out of Melbourne's main airport were not affected.

(Reporting by Tom Westbrook; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Paul Tait)

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