Sea World Helicopters chief pilot Ash Jenkinson has been named as the first fatality from the tragic mid-air crash on a busy Gold Coast beach on Monday.
Jenkinson was also the operator’s head of operations and had more than 16 years’ experience flying helicopters. He performed rescues during last February’s floods in northern NSW.
In total, four people have now been confirmed dead, and three critically injured after the two aircraft collided on Main Beach — minutes away from Surfers Paradise — at 2pm.
One helicopter crashed into the ground carrying the deceased, alongside a woman and two boys who were critically injured.
The second made an emergency landing on the same outcrop, about 200m from the helipad. Its six occupants suffered minor injuries, including cuts from shattered glass.
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”.
Sea World Helicopters said in a statement, “We and the entire flying community are devastated by what has happened and our sincere condolences go to all those involved and especially the loved ones and family of the deceased.
“We are cooperating with all the authorities, including the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) and the Queensland Police.
“As it is now a police investigation, we cannot provide any further information at this stage.”
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.
“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.”