SYDNEY, Feb. 21 (Xinhua) -- Grave fears are held for five people on board a charter plane that crashed into an Australian shopping center shortly after takeoff on Tuesday.

The charter plane departed Essendon airport in Melbourne at 9 a.m. local time on Tuesday morning bound for King Island, a popular food and golf tourist destination off Tasmania's north-west coast.

Shortly after takeoff, the plane experienced what is believed to have been catastrophic engine failure, and crashed into a warehouse at the Direct Factory Outlet (DFO) shopping center in Essendon, causing a large explosion and a "ball of flame" described by witnesses.

Emergency services have not yet been able to gain access to the warehouse and determine the fate of the five people on board due to the fire that continues to engulf the building.

Mich Frewen, a Victoria Police Superintendent, confirmed that the plane issued a mayday call shortly before crashing.

"We know that around nine this morning a Beechcraft air plane was taking off from Essendon airport, from the runway, close to taking off from the runway, it called in a mayday, we understand there was a catastrophic engine failure, potentially," Frewen told reporters on Tuesday.

"It took a slight degree of altitude, before crashing into the back of the DFO. The fire is still ongoing."

At least 13 teams of firefighters attended the scene as sections of the nearby Tullamarine freeway were closed.

Adelaide man Jason told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) that he saw the plane coming in low and fast.

"The plane was coming way, way fast. I thought that's faster than normal," Jason said.

"It looked like it hit the building, there was a massive fireball, I could feel the heat through the window.

"Then a wheel, it looked like a plane wheel, bounced on the road."

The owner of private charter flight operator Corporate and Leisure Aviation told the ABC that she was waiting for confirmation from emergency services that the plane was one of theirs.

Earlier in the morning Victoria's Police Minister, Lisa Neville, confirmed that there were five people on board the plane.

"It appears to be a very, very tragic accident that has occurred out there," Neville said.

"It appears a light plane, which is a charter flight, has impacted the DFO (shopping center) at Essendon Fields.

"There's also debris that's been left on the (Tullamarine) freeway."