Update: Four people have died and several others have been injured after two Sea World helicopters crashed into each other at Main Beach on the Gold Coast.
Queensland Ambulance Service declared the accident a “major incident”, while Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said it was an “unthinkable tragedy”.
Wreckage can still be seen at the scene, thought to be a small sand island on the Gold Coast Broadwater.
— Queensland Ambulance (@QldAmbulance) January 2, 2023
Sea World Drive at Main Beach has been closed, and authorities have told people to avoid the area.
Main Beach is minutes away from Surfers Paradise, and would likely have been packed with sunbathers on the Monday public holiday.
Inspector Gary Worrell said, “It is a difficult scene… due to the area it was located on the sandbank, it was difficult to gain access to get our emergency services to the scene.”
“One airframe (the main structure of the helicopter) has the windscreen removed and it’s landed safely on the sandbank.
“The other airframe has crashed and it was upside-down.
“Members of the public and police tried to remove the people and they commenced first aid to try and get those people to safety.”
The ATSB said it had already commenced a transport safety investigation into the incident, which took place at 2pm on Monday.
“Transport safety investigators with experience in helicopter operations, maintenance and survivability engineering are deploying from the ATSB’s Brisbane and Canberra offices and are expected to begin arriving at the accident site from Monday afternoon,” said Chief Commissioner Angus Mitchell.
“During the evidence gathering phase of the investigation, ATSB investigators will examine the wreckage and map the accident site. Investigators will also recover any relevant components for further examination at the ATSB’s technical facilities in Canberra, gather any available recorded data for analysis, and interview witnesses and other involved parties.
“The ATSB asks anyone who may have seen the collision, or who witnessed the helicopters in any phase of their flights, or who may have footage of any kind, to make contact via [email protected] at their earliest opportunity.
“The ATSB anticipates publishing a preliminary report detailing basic information gathered during the investigation’s evidence collection phase in approximately 6-8 weeks.
“A final report will be published at the conclusion of the investigation, however, should any critical safety issues be identified at any stage during the course of the investigation, the ATSB will immediately notify relevant parties so appropriate safety action can be taken.”
The accident comes weeks after two aircraft collided near the Sunshine Coast in November, killing two pilots.
The wreckage of the two aircraft were found 200 metres apart in a paddock at Kybong, near Gympie. Two victims, both sole occupants, were identified as being an 80-year-old Caboolture man and a 77-year-old Glenwood man.
One witness told 7News he was sitting on his veranda when he heard a “big bang”.
“We thought that didn’t sound like a gunshot, and we looked up and saw white bits of plane falling out of the sky.”
Before the crash, the glider and its tug aircraft took off from Gympie Aerodrome at Kybong, the home of Sunshine Coast Gliding.
It has been confirmed the second aircraft involved in the incident was not the tow plane.
Inspector Brad Inskip said, “The glider left from the gliding club. At this stage, we’re not sure where the ultralight came from, whether it came from here … it’s too early to know.
“The investigation will involve mapping those scenes, examining the aircraft and going from there, and obviously witness statements and interviews.
“This is a tragic incident and quite a graphic scene left there for all the emergency services and for the witnesses … terrible for the family and for those involved.
“This is a little local airport where many people in the community are here together — the gliding club is obviously very close.
“It’s a small little regional gliding club. They all know each other. This is going to hit the community very hard.”
Mid-air crashes are rare, with the last in Australia taking place in February 2020.