MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — A pilot, two British visitors and a Sydney woman have been identified as the four people killed in a collision of two helicopters over the waterfront at an Australian tourist hotspot.
Authorities say it was fortunate the death toll in the crash of two aircraft operated by Sea World Helicopters was not higher. The pilot of the second helicopter managed to land safely on a sandy outcrop despite the aircraft being damaged in the collision Monday afternoon near Main Beach on Australia’s Gold Coast.
“Considering the damage that was done to the front left-hand section of the helicopter, where the pilot was sitting, that has been a remarkable achievement,” said Australian Transport Safety Bureau Chief Commissioner Angus Mitchell, whose office is investigating the crash.
“So whilst it has been very tragic that four people have lost their lives and many people are mourning this morning, we could have had a far worse situation here and the fact that one helicopter managed to land has been quite remarkable.”
The pilot who died, Ashley Jenkinson, had worked as a chief pilot at Sea World Helicopters since 2019, and friends praised his mentorship and the assistance he provided during catastrophic floods in the New South Wales town of Ballina last year. The Gold Coast Bulletin reported he was 40 and had become a father in September.
His helicopter had been in the air for less than 20 seconds when it collided with the second Sea World Helicopter attempting to land.
Mitchell said the main rotor blade of the aircraft made contact with the front cockpit of the descending helicopter.
“That in itself has led to the main rotor and the gearbox separating from that helicopter, which has meant that, tragically, it’s then had no lift and has fallen heavily to the ground,” he said.
Investigators remain at the scene of the crash site, but a rising sea tide was adding to the difficulty of collecting evidence from the scene.
Mitchell said investigators wanted to identify what was occurring in the “cockpits at the time” of the collision.
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said it is supporting the family of the deceased 57-year-old woman and 65-year-old man from Britain who had been visiting Australia’s Queensland state on holiday.
The other passenger who died was a 36-year-old woman from the Sydney suburb of Glenmore Park.
Three passengers from the flight remain hospitalized: A 10-year-old boy, also from Glenmore Park, in critical condition, a 33-year-old woman from Geelong in critical condition, and a 9-year-old boy from Victoria state whose condition was stable.
The passengers from the helicopter that landed safely included two couples in their 40s from New Zealand and a 27-year-old woman from Western Australia. Three of the five passengers remain hospitalized after being showered in glass.
Holiday visitors and people enjoying the water had rushed to assist emergency service workers when the crash occurred near the Sea World marine park, during Australia’s peak summer holiday period.
Authorities praised members of the public who rushed to the aid of those in the helicopters.
“Our thoughts do go out to all those who were affected here, not only those on the helicopter and their extended families, but also those who were on the broadwater yesterday and have witnessed the confronting scenes of those helicopters coming down, particularly those people who were the first responders,” Mitchell said.
Village Roadshow Theme Parks, which owns Sea World Helicopters, said in a statement it was working with authorities while “offering its deepest condolences to those impacted” by the tragedy.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese also offered his “deepest sympathies to those who are grieving.”
“Australia is shocked by the news of the terrible and tragic helicopter incident … on the Gold Coast,” he wrote on social media.