King Island residents were in shock last night after three Victorian nurses holidaying on the island were killed in a plane crash at Currie.
The three other women aboard the plane were critically injured when their light plane, believed to have been piloted by one of the nurses, flipped and crashed on the runway at Currie yesterday.
All six aboard the plane were believed to be workmates at Rosebud Hospital, south of Melbourne, who had arrived at Currie on Tuesday.
Last night Currie resident and King Island Tourist Association member Jill Munro described the tragedy's effect on residents.
``The locals are absolutely devastated,'' Ms Munro said. ``Everyone here knew these girls.
They had driven them around, eaten meals with them at the pub, drank with them.
``They were so excited about their holiday, laughing and going on,'' said Mrs Coral Hooker, whose daughter drove the six women into town on Tuesday morning.
The women had been staying at the Colonial Lodge, in Currie's main street. Sr Monica Shelverton, of the Catholic Church in Currie, said that the accident was a tragedy for the community.
Just after 2pm yesterday the six piled into a six-seat, single-engined Piper Lance and began taxiing down the runway of Currie airstrip, bound for Moorabbin Airport.
They did not make it to the end of the runway. Andrew Huckle, one of the first on the crash scene, said the plane appeared to struggle during take-off.
``They were going north-west and the wind hit them from the north-east and tipped the right-hand wing of it up in the air,'' he said. King Island Council general manager John White said that winds at the airport, about 8km from Currie, had been quite strong when the aircraft went down.
A weather station at the airport had recorded gusts of 25 knots minutes before the crash. An ambulance officer at the scene said that he believed two of the women were killed instantly, and another died shortly after.
Two medivac helicopters took the three survivors to Currie Hospital, about 10 minutes from the airstrip. Two of them were then flown by air ambulance back to Melbourne's Alfred Hospital.
The other remained in Currie Hospital in a serious condition, as local police, SES workers and representatives of the Bureau of Air Safety Investigation inspected the wreckage strewn across the middle of the runway.
It is believed the women ranged in age from early 20s through to the 50s. Launceston coroner's associate John Ferguson said that the pilot was killed, along with the passenger next to the pilot and the passenger behind her.
``We don't know whether the wind has got her, or she has lost power, or both,'' he said.
``The left-hand wing is missing. The pilot has obviously taken off, she's turned and headed for Melbourne, and at some point in the procedure she's lost power or the wind has got her.
'' Northern senior coroner Peter Wilson also flew to King Island late yesterday afternoon for a preliminary examination of the crash site.
The accident is also being investigated by the Bureau of Air Safety Investigation. Peninsula Health Care Network chief executive Chris Fox, whose company operates the Rosebud Hospital, said last night that distressed hospital staff were receiving counselling.
``We are shocked and saddened by this terrible news,'' he said. ``We all extend our deepest sympathies to the families of the women lost in the accident and our thoughts are with the three injured nurses and their families.
'' A telephone hotline has been set up for people seeking information about the crash. The number is 03 623 02568.