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Gold Coast crash helicopter operator resumes joy flights

written by Jake Nelson | April 4, 2023

Sea World Helicopters has resumed flights today, three months after January’s deadly crash in the Gold Coast.

The company said it was cleared by CASA to resume operations “some weeks ago” after passing safety assessments and paid tribute to those who lost their lives.

The January 2 accident, which saw two Sea World Eurocopter EC130s collide mid-air on Main Beach – minutes away from Surfers Paradise – killed four people, including the pilot and all three passengers of the helicopter taking off, while three of the six passengers and crew on board the landing helicopter were seriously injured.

“In many ways, today is a difficult day for all of us as we pay our deepest respect to Vanessa Tadros, Diane and Ron Hughes, our friend and late chief Sea World Helicopters pilot Ash Jenkinson, their families, and those who suffered physically and mentally in the accident,” said John Orr-Campbell, director of Sea World Helicopters.


“I know Ash would have wanted to have been flying with us today. Helicopter flying is what we do, and our staff wanted to get back to work and continue to provide the service to those who want to fly with us.”

In a preliminary report released last month by the ATSB, the pilot of the landing helicopter told investigators he had not seen the other helicopter taking off and “did not recall” hearing a radio call from the second helicopter outlining that he was due to take off.

“This does not necessarily mean that a taxi call was not made, and the ATSB investigation will undertake a detailed analysis of the nature of the radio calls made,” said the organisation’s chief commissioner, Angus Mitchell.

“The investigation will look closely at the issues both pilots faced in seeing the other helicopter. We have already generated a 3D model of the view from the pilot’s seat from an exemplar EC130 helicopter which we will use as part of a detailed visibility study to help the investigation determine the impediments both pilots faced in sighting the other helicopter.”

In the ATSB report, Sea World Helicopters said it intended to address elements of aircraft visibility and aids to traffic detection. This included:

  • high visibility paint on rotor blades;
  • additional strobe lighting on helicopters;
  • introduction of helipad controllers who can provide traffic advice to pilots; and
  • use of live radar data displayed on an iPad in the cockpit.

Peter Carter, director of Carter Capner Law and former national president of the Australian Lawyers Alliance, has called for significant reforms to Queensland and Commonwealth liability law in the wake of the tragedy, which claimed four lives and caused three serious injuries.

According to Carter, “good Samaritans” who helped rescue victims and retrieve bodies from the crash may not be eligible to be compensated for psychological damage they suffered, as they cannot claim for mental health under the operator’s compulsory insurance policy.

Additionally, Carter says that Queensland’s Civil Liability Act from 2002 would allow insurers to use an “unconscionable” loophole to escape liability even to seriously injured victims on board by arguing – as has successfully been done at least twice in NSW – that joy flights in light aircraft such as helicopters are a “dangerous recreational activity”.

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