MELBOURNE, Australia (AP/KXAN) — An Australian pilot and four tourists from the Austin-area on a golfing vacation were killed when a light plane crashed into a shopping mall on Tuesday shortly after takeoff in the Australian city of Melbourne, officials said.
Texans Greg Reynolds DeHaven, Russell Munsch, and 67-year-old John Washburn, who all lived in the same neighborhood in Spicewood, died in the plane crash. The fourth victim, Glenn Garland, of Austin, has been identified by the Texas energy company he co-founded, CLEAResults.
The pilot was Max Quartermain, owner of the charter company Corporate and Leisure Travel.
The five were on a twin-engine Beechcraft Super King Air that crashed about 45 minutes before the Direct Factory Outlet mall in suburban Essendon was set to open, Police Minister Lisa Neville said. The plane had taken off from Melbourne’s second-biggest airport at Essendon for a golfing trip to King Island, 160 miles to the south. The mall adjoins the airport.
The pilot declared a mayday and reported a “catastrophic engine failure” moments before the plane crashed into a storage area at the rear of the mall, police said. Police and paramedics rushed to the crash site, where firefighters doused the flames.
DeHaven’s sister Denelle Wicht posted on Facebook that her 70-year-old brother had been killed “on a once in a lifetime trip to Australia” with friends.
Wicht spoke to KXAN and said, “My brother was on a 3-week trip with a large group of friends, most from Spicewood, Texas. What I know at this time is that he and two of his friends decided to charter a plane to an island to golf, while others were off doing other entertainments. His wife and other two wives were going shopping.”
Bruce Mills, vice president of the Barton Creek Lakeside board, was neighbors with DeHaven, Munsch and Washburn. “It’s a shock when you hear of one death, but I’ve talked to a lot of our neighbors today and they start off saying the same thing, they just can’t believe it.”
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,” Leane said.
“I saw this plane coming in really low and fast. I couldn’t see the impact but when it hit the building there was a massive fireball,” he said. “I could feel the heat through the window of the taxi, and then a wheel — it looked like a plane wheel — bounced on the road and hit the front of the taxi as we were driving along,” said one witness.
De Haven’s sister says her brother is a retired FBI agent and is leaving behind three children and six grandchildren.
Washburn was a CPA and former president of the Barton Creek Lakeside board. His daughter Davis Griffin lives in Houston. “He was a really good dad and a really amazing granddad,” said Griffin. “We’re heartbroken, but I guess the only solace is that, you know, he was pursuing what he loves to do, I mean he was pursuing his passion,.”
CLEAResults released the following statement after hearing about the passing of their former CEO, Glenn Garland:
“We at CLEAResult are heartbroken to hear of Glenn Garland’s passing. Glenn was an inspirational leader who co-founded our company with a unique vision for the vast potential of the energy efficiency industry. Our deepest sympathies and thoughts are with his family during this difficult time.”
Munsch founded a law firm that has an office on Congress Avenue. David Mattka worked with him for 35 years. “He and I, we used to play 3-on-3 basketball tournaments in Dallas back when we were young enough to not hurt ourselves doing it,” remembers Mattka. “I think most of us are still in shock mode, it’s sudden, unexpected, tragic, horrifying.”
The firm Munsch Hardt released a statement following the news of their deceased former colleague:
It is with great sadness that we inform you our dear friend, colleague, and co-founder Russ Munsch passed away in a tragic plane crash in Melbourne, Australia yesterday. Russ was enjoying retirement, and doing what he loved almost more than practicing law – playing golf. Russ was a lawyer’s lawyer; one of the best of all time. During his nearly 40-year career, he worked on high-profile bankruptcy cases including Enron Corporation, Coho Energy Corporation, Northwest Airlines, and as bankruptcy counsel to Nelson Bunker Hunt in what is still considered the largest personal bankruptcy proceeding in history. Russ was a loving husband, father and friend, and he will be dearly missed. Until we learn more, we ask that you keep Russ’s family in your thoughts and prayers.”
Crash investigation begins
KXAN sat down Tuesday with Austin aviation attorney Mike Slack, with Slack & Davis, who says there are a number of PT6 engine variants used on different King Air model aircraft, but that they all share common design features. The former NASA engineer and licensed pilot has worked on several King Air crash cases over time that deal with engine failure. Slack says there are some common “failure patterns” he has noticed in PT6 engine failure cases.
“Usually with a King Air, there’s adequate power in the remaining engine for the pilot to — first of all, continue to climb, particularly straight ahead — to manage the aircraft and to put the aircraft in a very flyable condition for a safe return to landing. Now, something happened here that disrupted that,” said Slack.
Slack says when he first saw the crash footage, he wanted to know whether the aircraft experienced “uncontained engine failure,” versus contained. Slack says the likelihood of surviving a “contained engine failure” is significant compared to that of the damage in an uncontained failure because of the extensive damage that can affect the plane when it happens outside a small, contained area.
“If it’s an uncontained engine failure, it becomes a more intricate examination of what happened to the machine,” he said.
After that, Slack says he wanted to know whether this aircraft had been involved in an extended overhaul program. Slack told KXAN News that by design, PT6 engines are meant to be overhauled at 3,000 hours of flight use. Meaning, the engines are opened up and reassembled, if deemed necessary at that flight time.
“When I heard King Air, charter, PT6A engine failure, one of the first things that comes to mind is the question, was this engine in an extended overhaul program? How far beyond, if it was its 3,000 hours was it, and what had taken place in this engine’s life for people to take a good close look at it?”
Slack says the overhaul procedure may be extended through a certified program approved by regulators.
“Some operators — those are people that run charter operations — have been granted extended time of overhaul,” said Slack. “We’ve been involved in cases where instead of being overhauled at 3,000 hours, the engine is granted an extension to 5, 6, [or] 7,000 hours. We’ve seen engines that failed at 5,000 hours that were in an extension program, that had never been opened up,” he added.
Slack says each and every plane crash case takes a unique path depending on the facts discovered in their individual investigations. No two crashes are identical.
He says there are three primary areas of focus in all aviation investigations. They are:
- The Man — the pilot — his or her background, experience, and training, as well as recurrence of training
- The Machine — the airplane — its engine and systems, i.e. the hydraulics and nature of possible engine failure
- The Environment — weather and operational life — this is not limited to the weather the day of the crash, but also includes the aircraft’s operational environment it has operated in, i.e. climate type, corrosion factors, etc.
According to aircraft registry records in the United States and Australia for the plane involved in the crash, we know:
- The aircraft was manufactured in 1996,
- It was owned in Wichita, Kansas by a company, then appeared to be de-registered in 1997, and
- Its latest current registry was reported listed in 2013 in Australia.
It’s unclear when the plane may have been sold and shipped to the country during those years.
It is important to note that the PT6 engine is also used in other aircraft, including the Cessna Caravan.