Plane crash fireball a near-disaster

Written By komlim puldel on Selasa, 14 Oktober 2014 | 20.01

Chelsea MFB officers examine the wreckage of the light plane that crashed in Camp St, Chelsea. Picture: Jason Sammon Source: News Limited

A resident has captured the seconds after a plane crashed into a house and laneway in Chelsea

A HERO pilot killed in a fiery crash in a suburban street has been praised for managing to bring down his light plane without hurting anyone else.

John Francis Stephenson, 77, of Hampton East, courageously tried to land in a Chelsea lane after engine trouble apparently prevented his landing on the nearby foreshore.

His amateur-built RV-6A single-engine plane struck a house and two cars, then burst into flames.

Mr Stephenson took off from Moorabbin Airport at 1.24pm on Tuesday, and reached 3238 feet flying south over Edithvale. Another light aircraft passed beneath him at 1138 feet.

PICTURES FROM THE CRASH SITE

But he was in the air for less than three minutes.

By 1.26pm — just two minutes after takeoff — he was in trouble.

It is believed he made a call to say he would make an emergency landing on the beach.

But he was forced to try to put the plane down in a small suburban lane instead.

RESIDENT OUTRAGE: CRASH 'JUST A MATTER OF TIME'

Amazingly, the only other casualty was Austrian grandmother Herta Nebert, 75, who was inside the house and suffered shock.

But she believes she's the luckiest woman alive.

Chelsea residents William and Herta Nebert, whose house was damaged by the plane crash. Picture: Chris Eastman Source: News Limited

She heard a loud roar while tidying up her kitchen, then a terrifying explosion that knocked her off her feet.

Her kitchen windows shattered, sending glass everywhere. Thick acrid smoke billowed from the wreckage.

"There was a bang — it was like an explosion, almost — which must have been when he sheared off the wing, and I fell to my knees," she told the Herald Sun.

"I got up and thought 'Oh my God'. And I saw the flames, so I ran outside.

"I heard a big roar (before the plane crashed). I knew it was a plane the minute it hit."

Her husband, William, rushed home when he heard the sirens and saw on the TV that a plane had crashed in Chelsea.

The couple have lived on the corner of Bath St and The Strand for 29 years.

Authorities praised Mr Stephenson, a father of three who was part of a group of pilots that met monthly.

The Herald Sun can reveal that he held a commercial pilot's licence and had vast flying experience.

"Very brave, very brave ... He's missed the power lines, other houses," CFA spokesman Andrew Delaney said.

"I'd say that was a deliberate action."

He said it was "very lucky" that no one else was hurt.

Mr Delaney said "the pilot did a good job keeping away from the other houses" and in guiding the light aircraft down the laneway.

Acting Inspector Janene Denton said: "It's terribly sad ... it's a busy district and shopping area, so certainly it could've been a lot worse."

Mr Stephenson, a retired financial expert, was considered a veteran among enthusiasts in the light aircraft scene.

Not only did he build his own aircraft, he helped supervise others building theirs.

Col Burgess was delivering furniture when he saw the plane crash into a residential area of Chelsea

A friend, who did not want to be named, said the plane was kept in pristine condition and Mr Stephenson's flying ability was second to none.

"He's been around flying for years,'' he said.

"Flying was part of his life, but he was a very, very good snow skier as well.

"He's a really nice bloke ... It's not a great day.''

The Herald Sun understands Mr Stephenson built the plane from a kit and had flown it since July 1, 2003.

His last flight was a 3½-hour journey to West Sale and back on September 23.

A light plane crashed into a residential area in the Melbourne suburb of Chelsea

Construction worker Jay Hayward, 32, who was working five streets away from the crash, said he saw the plane coming down.

"I heard this little engine, and looked up and it was really low, about 30 metres from the top of the house roofs," he said.

"Then it backfired — like a pop. It was so loud you would have heard it for miles.

"I rushed to tell my boss and then, two streets out, it started to nosedive. It all happened so quickly, and right above us."

Police want any witnesses to contact Crime Stoppers.

They also want anyone who finds debris, which was scattered over at least a 300 metre area, to contact police.

jon.kaila@news.com.au

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