SYDNEY — A light plane crash-landed and exploded close to a Sydney primary school on Tuesday, killing the two people on board and leaving children and passersby in shock, police said.
Several cars were damaged and one driver ferrying children had to take evasive action as the plane came down in a busy street, ploughed through a power pole and burst into flames just metres (yards) from the school.
"Miraculously, no homes were damaged or the nearby school," police Superintendent Ray King told reporters.
Transport Minister Anthony Albanese told parliament two people had died in the fiery smash.
"I'm advised the police have confirmed that the two people on board the aircraft have both died," Albanese said, describing it as a "tragic accident".
The crash triggered a major power outage, affecting thousands of homes and knocking out the traffic lights on nearby commuter highways.
Five people were treated for shock, including schoolchildren who witnessed the crash and the motorist who manoeuvred to avoid the plummeting plane.
"The car (driver) saw the aircraft about to crash and stopped to evade any further damage to the car," King said. "There was debris scattered everywhere, some of that debris damaged the car."
Local media released a dramatic recording of the pilot's final moments as he told air traffic control he was struggling to maintain height and was searching for a safe place to land.
"We've got no height here... we're gonna have to put it down on the road," the pilot says, moments before the crash.
Western Sydney's Canley Vale Public School and nearby homes were evacuated after the accident which occurred at 8:10 am, shortly before the school was due to open.
"We're enormously grateful this didn't happen half an hour later and in the middle of the playground," the primary school's principal, Cheryl McBride, told public broadcaster ABC.
"We can't believe just how fortunate we have been."
Resident Kevin Huynh, 33, leaped over the fence between his home and the school to avoid the fireball as the wreckage exploded in front of his house.
"The whole front of my place was on fire," Huynh told Australian Associated Press. "As I jumped the fence, I heard a second big explosion. I was pretty lucky to escape."
Other residents thought the crash sounded like a bomb going off.
"There was black smoke everywhere and a really strong smell of gasoline," said Leo Lovito, 30. "It's very lucky it didn't hit the school."
Police superintendent King said the downed craft was a hired plane which took off about 20 minutes before the accident, adding that police and transport officials were now investigating.