A video shot inside one of the helicopters involved in the mid-air collision off the Gold Coast shows a passenger trying to warn the pilot, apparently seconds before the crash, in which four people died.
The video, obtained by 7News, was taken by tourists who survived the crash at Sea World on Monday afternoon.
Before the wings of the other helicopter crash into the cockpit windshield, the pilot catches a passenger who taps Michael James on the shoulder. The passenger also grasps the pilot’s seat.
James managed to land the helicopter in a sandbox – what experts and investigators described as an incredible feat that saved the lives of New Zealand tourists on board.
Passengers and friends Elmarie and Riaan Steenberg and Marle and Edward Swart thanked James in a statement and referred to him as their “hero”.
They said they were “completely devastated by the horrific helicopter crash” after “a fun 5-minute vacation trip to Australia turned into a nightmare”.
“We would like to express our gratitude to every eyewitness who ran to help, every police officer and emergency room personnel who helped with our immediate needs, and calmed and comforted us,” they told Courier-Mail.
“We saw Matship in action. Australians band together to help in time[s] out of need.”
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The collision occurred as one of the helicopters was taking off while the other was landing. Four people were killed in the second helicopter, including a Sydney woman, Vanessa Tadros, a British couple, Ron and Diane Hughes, and pilot Ashley Jenkinson.
Tadros’ son Nicholas, 10, from Geelong West, and Leon de Silva, nine, are in intensive care. Leon’s mother, Winnie de Silva, was also seriously injured in the accident.
De Silva, from the hospital, said he saw “death in my eyes” during the crash and held his son’s hand.
“I heard a big explosion and all I could feel was the chopping of the helicopter,” he told News Corp.
“I don’t really remember [after that] but everyone was trembling and worried.”
Both aircraft were operated by Sea World Helicopters.
On Thursday, John Orr-Campbell, director and owner of Sea World Helicopters, said he and his crew were “saddened to the core” over the death of its chief pilot, Jenskinson. He said his crew also “mourned the loss of their passengers and could not imagine the terrible sadness their families and loved ones felt”.
Orr-Campbell said Jenkinson made its maiden flight in May 2007 and eventually became chief pilot in 2019, “overseeing all aspects of safety and flight operations.”
I’ve known Ash personally for nine years. He was a good guy and a pilot who stood out to his name with 6,210 hours of flight,” he said.
“Losing a man and a pilot of Ash’s caliber is literally shocking… My heart aches when I think of Ash’s fiancee Kosha and their one-year-old son Kayden.”
Orr-Campbell said Jenkinson had been conducting scenic flights over the Northern Territory until the end of September 2011, guiding several promising pilots.
Orr-Campbell also said he has devoted more than 700 hours to assisting search and rescue flights and firefighting operations in the area.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau is investigating the cause of the crash.
On Tuesday, chief commissioner Angus Mitchell said investigators will examine witness statements, among other evidence.
“We know it’s a busy time of year. We know that helicopters are constantly flying in and out of the Sea World helipad throughout the day. So we will definitely be looking at multiple lines of inquiry here about the procedures in place and what helped to potentially contribute to such a tragic outcome,” he said.