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Hero Sea World pilot dies aged 53

written by Adam Thorn | June 16, 2024

Micheal James in his Sea World uniform. (Ambulance Wish Queensland/Instagram)

The hero pilot who landed his helicopter safely after a mid-air collision over Surfers Paradise last year has died aged just 53.

7 News reported on Saturday that Michael James was diagnosed with cancer three months after the incident and lost his battle with the disease late last month.

It comes after two Sea World Eurocopter EC130s collided on Main Beach – minutes away from Surfers Paradise – on 2 January 2023. The pilot and three passengers onboard the helicopter taking off died, while three others were seriously injured.

However, the second helicopter, piloted by James, touched down safely, with all six on board surviving.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau’s (ATSB) chief commissioner, Angus Mitchell, previously said the “remarkable” manoeuvre meant a “far worse situation” was averted.

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Meanwhile, four of the surviving passengers onboard – New Zealand couple Edward and Marle Swart and friends Riaan and Elmarie Steenberg – also released a statement hailing him as a hero.

“To our pilot, who, through all the chaos, landed the helicopter safely, keeping us and other bystanders safe,” they said. “You are our hero. Thank you so very much.”

The ATSB’s investigation into the crash is still ongoing, but a preliminary report found James didn’t hear a call over the radio by the pilot taking off, Ash Jenkinson.

It also separately found Jenkins had taken cocaine in the days before the accident, but added the low concentrations of the drug in his body meant it would have unlikely to have been an “impairment of his psychomotor skills”.

The probe could not rule out whether “post-cocaine exposure effects of the drug, which can include fatigue, depression and inattention, had any effect on the performance of the pilot”.

Mitchell said in January: “To date, the ATSB has undertaken extensive work to understand and recreate the events of the day in order to identify and examine the context and risk controls that existed at the time.

“The ATSB analysis framework looks at a hierarchy of factors arranged in their relative proximity to an event, and this investigation has so far concentrated on elements closest to the event: individual actions, vehicle/equipment performance, local conditions, and risk controls.”

The final investigation is due to be published later this year.

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