THERE was bedlam in Chelsea yesterday afternoon when a plane crashed into a house in Camp St, killing the pilot, aged in his 70s, on impact.
Eyewitnesses told The News they had seen the light plane “flying erratically” before it crashed into the residential street at about 1.30pm.
Real estate agent Greg Smith of Asset Property was driving west along Chelsea Road heading towards Chelsea shops when he noticed the plane in trouble.
“I saw it do a swirl and twist then dive straight down and heard a massive roar as it crashed,” Mr Smith said.
Chelsea SES volunteer Phil Wall was at home with his wife at about 1.30pm when he heard a light plane doing what he thought were acrobatic manoeuvres over the bay.
“Every now and then we hear planes doing that and it was nothing out of the ordinary – but then the high engine-revving noise just stopped and we heard a loud bang.”
Running outside he witnessed a scene of devastation after the small aircraft crashed into the side of a two storey townhouse in a laneway near The Strand and Camp Street – just metres from a children’s playground.
Mr Wall set off for the crash site to join SES crews on the scene to help.
Black smoke was erupting from the plane and building rubble was strewn for 300 metres.
Many people running to the site were forced back by the heat and smoke. Two vehicles were damaged.
Emergency services rushed to the scene to put out the fire and cordon off the damage area. At least four fire trucks attended and crews deemed the blaze “controlled” by 1.50pm.
Eyewitnesses said the noise was like “a bomb going off.”
Cathy Gogerly had finished lunch and was in Woolies when she heard this huge explosion.
“I heard a big bang, it was like a bomb going off. The floor shook and I thought whatever it was, it was going to hit the supermarket,” she said.
“I rushed out and saw smoke and people running around.”
Eyewitnesses said they thought the pilot may have been attempting an emergency beach landing but could not manage it before ‘nose-diving’ into the house.
Camp St resident Joshua Rodrigues said: “I didn’t see the plane crash, just heard it. I ran outside and saw black smoke and fire everywhere and saw some of the house got burnt and a car damaged as well. I saw heaps of debris everywhere. It got really crowded with police, ambulance and fire engines arriving.”
Another bystander, who said his grandparents live next door to the crash site, said his grandmother was in the kitchen at the time of the plane crash but fortunately was not hurt.
Megan Johnson was one of the first people at the scene of the plane crash and said she heard the aircraft fly overhead near her workplace before it crashed into Camp St.
“It was an incredible explosion that literally rocked the neighbourhood,” Ms Johnson said.
Ms Johnson said she ran to the house that had been hit by the plan and saw “a lady came out the door…she was in shock.”
Remarkably, Ms Johnson entered the woman’s house to try to find the resident’s pet cat after asking whether anyone else was in the building.
“The building was on fire,” Ms Johnson said.
“I went up the stairs and tried to find the cat but couldn’t see it.”
She said several neighbours also helped in the search and “turned up with fire extinguishers” to try to douse the flames before emergency services arrived.
The field campaign officer for Labor candidate for Mordialloc Tim Richardson said one of the neighbours had a gas mask and was able to conduct a more extensive search of the house for the missing cat.
“The smoke was very toxic and very dense,” Ms Johnson said.
“It had a chemical smell and I knew I couldn’t stay in there [the house] for long.”
Ms Johnson said she “didn’t think about it at the time” as she ran to the crash site and said several people rushed to the scene to also help although she noticed others “standing around filming on their mobile phones” instead.
Police said the woman in the house at the time of the plane crash was not injured but was treated for shock.
The aircraft took off from Moorabbin airport and had planned to return there later in the day.
Police will investigate the crash on behalf of the Coroner in conjunction with the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.
Patterson River CFA senior station officer Andrew Delany said the “pilot did a good job avoiding houses” given the circumstances.
— on scene interviews by Terri Lee Fatouros
First published in the Chelsea Mordialloc Mentone News