The ATSB’s chief commissioner has hailed one of the pilots involved in the Gold Coast crash for landing the helicopter safely.
Angus Mitchell said the “remarkable” manoeuvre meant a “far worse situation” was averted, with all of the passengers in the second aircraft escaping with only minor injuries.
His comments came after two Sea World Helicopters collided mid-air yesterday on Main Beach — minutes away from Surfers Paradise — at 2pm, killing four people and critically injuring three others.
While the first aircraft crashed into the ground carrying the deceased, the second, referenced by Mitchell, made an emergency landing on the same outcrop, about 200m from the helipad.
The ATSB will now turn its focus on what happened inside the aircraft at the time of the crash.
“From the footage that we’ve seen and from the damage that we can witness on there, it does appear that the main rotor blade of the helicopter blade taking off has collided with the front cockpit of the descending helicopter on the left-hand side,” Mitchell told reporters.
“Now, exactly whether that was the very first point of impact – we’re yet to determine. But that in itself has led to the main rotor in the gearbox separating from the main helicopter, which then had no lift and fell heavily to the ground. It has been on a sandbar.
“Exactly whether it hit the water or exactly what depth it was, I guess, is what we’ll determine based on the time of day that it occurred and exactly where on the sand bar.
“But we do know that the second helicopter has landed on the sand bar, and that has obviously led to a stage where we aren’t seeing more fatalities here than what we could have.
“We have a reasonable understanding of what the two helicopters were doing, as I said, in the critical phases of flight.
“But exactly why this occurred, the range of visibility from both the pilots, what was happening inside the cabins the time – they’re the things that will help us piece together potentially what may have been a contributing factor here. But it’s still at a very early stage in the investigation to start speculating.”
Mitchell said the job of trying to salvage the two aircraft was challenging because heavy machinery was required to move them off the beach.
“Once we get them ashore and we start to go through the actual wreckage, we’ll get a better appreciation. But that can be, as I just mentioned, the forces involved in a crash like this are considerable.
“There’s the considerable disruption to both airframes, and that will take us some time to get a better appreciation.”
Later on Tuesday, more of the identities of those killed were revealed, including a newlywed couple from England – Ron and Diane Hughes, aged 65 and 57 – and a Sydney mum, Vanessa Tadros, 36.
The trio died alongside the pilot, Ash Jenkinson.
Jenkinson was also Sea World Helicopters’ head of operations and had more than 16 years’ experience flying helicopters. He performed rescues during last February’s floods in northern NSW.
Sea World Helicopters operates a fleet of four helicopters: two Airbus H125s and two H130s.
Videos of the tragedy obtained by TV stations show one of the aircraft lifting off the helipad before it clipped the second at an estimated height of 500m.
Witnesses reported hearing a loud bang and revealing there were people on the beach where it fell.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the accident was an “unthinkable tragedy”, while Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Australia was shocked by what he called a “terrible and tragic incident”.