Herald Sun (Melbourne), 28/11/2001, pg. 11

A PILOT and three government staff died when their plane crashed and exploded within seconds of takeoff yesterday.

Reports suggest the plane experienced engine difficulties about 8.45am and dived through power lines and a tree before hitting a road of a Toowoomba industrial estate.

Those on the plane included pilot Bruce Johnson, 28, formerly of Emerald in Central Queensland and Queensland Health psychiatrist Dr Alan Hughes and trainee psychiatrist Dr Catherine Thompson, both of Toowoomba.

Police said the Eastland Air Beech C90 King Air smashed nose first near factories neighbouring the airport and erupted in a fire ball.

It is the second multiple fatality crash in the same industrial estate in the past 11 years, prompting the Toowoomba council to look at relocating the airport.

In October 1990, a pilot and two passengers were killed when an Eastland Air Cessna 310 crashed in similar circumstances in the same industrial estate.

Acting mayor Peter Wood said moves had been stepped up in the past 12-months because of community concerns about the airport’s close proximity to industrial businesses, homes and sports fields.

Police and emergency crews said the scene of yesterday’s crash was like a bomb site and that all on board were killed on impact.

Specialist forensic police officers were called in to undertake the horrific task of sifting the wreckage to help identify the badly charred remains of the victims.

The plane wreckage was strewn over an area covering several hundred metres. More than 5000 businesses and homes were blacked out for several hours.

Bureau of Air Safety, police scientific officers and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority all inspected the scene shortly after spot fires were extinguished by fire crews.

Records show the plane in yesterday’s crash was built in 1975 and was first registered in Australia in 1998. It used Pratt and Whitney turboprops, which will come under intense scrutiny by investigators.

Witnesses yesterday said the plane engine sputtered and that the left wing struck a power line, snapping it off and catapulting the fuselage on to a roadway.

Nearby workers rushed to the scene with hoses as the huge fireball began spreading to trees and near gas cylinders and gas mains. Witness Wayne Shum, 15, said the plane hit trees and exploded when it hit the ground.

“It was a big ball of red and flames as high as the telegraph pole and there was heaps of black smoke,” he said.

“There were big explosions going off in the middle of the fire all the time. I ran the opposite way and jumped behind a little desk. I was scared. There were gas cylinders and gas pipes right beside
the explosion, so if they had exploded, shrapnel would have been everywhere.”

Worker Shane Hensley said he heard a bang and the power went out as the plane hit.

“I grabbed a fire hose from near the door and started spraying water near the gas cylinders. There was flame around the cylinders,” he said.

“We saw the tail end of the plane and thought no one could survive that. There was not much we could do.”

Copyright 2001 / Herald Sun