Two British citizens who were killed when two helicopters collided in Australia’s Gold Coast on Monday (January 2) have been named as Ron and Diane Hughes, a recently married couple from Liverpool.
The Telegraph reported that the couple, aged 65 and 57, had been visiting family in Queensland when they boarded one of the helicopters for a joyride near the popular Sea World theme park when the tragedy struck.
An Australian woman, Venessa Tadros, who was believed to be related to the couple, also died in the crash while her 10-year-old son remains in a critical condition in hospital. The pilot, who was named Ash Jenkinson and is believed to have come from Birmingham, was also killed - bringing the total number of Britons reported to have died in the crash to three.
According to reports, the 40-year-old had been the chief pilot and head of operations at Sea World Helicopters. The father-of-one, whose wife, Kosha, gave birth to their first son 17 months ago, had trained numerous novice pilots.
In an interview on Australian breakfast television, close friend Andy Taylor said Jenkinson did a lot of charity work and flew his helicopter to help victims of the recent New South Wales floods. He said: “He is the best of the best. I don’t know what else to say.”
Air safety investigators reportedly said the crash could have been much worse if it weren’t for the second pilot’s expertise in making a heavy landing despite having his cockpit glass broken by the other aircraft’s rotor blade.
Chief Commissioner Angus Mitchell of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau described the actions of the 52 year-old Sydney pilot to land safely as a “remarkable achievement”. He said: “While it has been very tragic that four people have lost their lives and many families are mourning this morning, we could have had a far worse situation.”
Investigators will also work to determine what transpired in the helicopters’ cockpits before the collision and to examine the landing procedures and business protocols, in addition to analysing surveillance footage and films shot by beachgoers. They had also retrieved recording devices from the aircraft.
According to eyewitness video, the second aircraft’s front cockpit was struck by the main rotor blade of the descending helicopter, which was coming in to land. In the collision, the aircraft’s gearbox and rotor blade split off, sending the helicopter hurtling toward the sandbank.
The incident occurred in front of hundreds of people who were celebrating the New Year’s Day public holiday in the popular tourist location. At the moment, John Hunt, who was visiting the theme park, thought one of the helicopters was going to crash into the crowd, but the pilot was able to get out of the sandbank.
Sea World theme park said on Tuesday (January 3): "Village Roadshow Theme Parks (VRTP) offers its deepest condolences to all those impacted by the helicopter tragedy. While Sea World Helicopters is an independent professional operator, VRTP is working with emergency services and the authorities to provide every possible assistance."
Sea World Helicopters, a separate company from the park where it operates, also expressed its condolences and said it was cooperating with the authorities handling the crash investigation.
It 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.”