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Light plane carrying five people crashes into Australian shopping mall

SYDNEY - 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.

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 Airservices Australia said flights in and out of Melbourne's main airport were not affected.

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