Sea World helicopter crash: report suggests pilot did not hear radio call from other aircraft

A pilot “did not recall” his fellow pilot making a standard taxiing call to say he was taking off before their helicopters collided and crashed, killing four people and injuring nine others on the Gold Coast.

Air crash investigators say pilot Michael James told them he saw five passengers boarding the second helicopter at a helipad near Sea World as he was coming in to land his aircraft with six passengers at another helipad nearby on 2 January.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) said the pilot thought the second helicopter would pass behind his aircraft, and he didn’t remember the other pilot radioing him to say he was taking off.

“They did not recall the pilot of XKQ making a standard ‘taxiing’ call announcing their intention to depart,” the ATSB’s preliminary report into the crash said.

A third helicopter pilot in the area at the time recalled hearing James’s inbound call, but did not recall hearing a taxi call from the other pilot taking off.

A fourth helicopter pilot could not recall hearing calls from either of the two aircraft before they crashed.

However, the ATSB’s commissioner, Angus Mitchell, said that evidence “did not necessarily mean that a taxiing call was not made” by the pilot taking off and investigators would probe the radio calls in the lead-up to the crash.

The report said James also told the ATSB he didn’t see the second helicopter take off from the helipad.

“While video footage taken by passengers in both helicopters on mobile phones contained images of the other helicopter, this does not mean that the other helicopter was visible to either pilot,” Mitchell said.

“The investigation will look closely at the issues both pilots faced in seeing the other helicopter.”

Four people died and nine people were injured, including three critically, when the two aircraft collided mid-air and crashed into a sandbar.

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Pilot Ashley Jenkinson, 40, British couple Ron and Diane Hughes, 65 and 57, and Sydney mother Vanessa Tadros, 36, died in the crash.

Tadros’ son, Nicholas, 10, has been undergoing procedures in hospital since the accident, and last week had his leg amputated from the knee down.

Victorian mother Winnie de Silva, 33, and her nine-year-old son Leon are recovering from injuries sustained in the crash.

The pilot of the second chopper, James, managed to land his aircraft safely, but he and two of his passengers were injured by flying glass when its windshield shattered.

The full ATSB report into the collision is not expected until at least September 2024.

The Guardian