The cause of the deadly Sea World helicopter crash has been revealed as a damning new report gives survivors and victims’ families some answers as to what went wrong.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau released details of the preliminary investigation into the cause of the crash on Tuesday, which looked into exactly how the two choppers collided mid-air over the Gold Coast’s Broadwater on a perfectly clear day on January 2.
Chief commissioner of ATSB Angus Mitchell said the pilot of the helicopter coming into land did not hear a call from the pilot who was taking off over the radio.
He explained the preliminary report outlines what occurred including the sequence of events that preceded the collision, but investigators were yet to analyse “all the factors that potentially contributed to this tragedy”.
A report has revealed what led two helicopters to collide at Sea World on the Gold Coast on january 2. Picture: NCA NewsWire/ Scott Powick
Mr Mitchell said the two Eurocopters EC130 were operating five minute scenic flights from two different helipad facilities located about 220m apart.
“One from a pad within the theme park, and the other a pad to the south … adjacent to the park,” he said.
Multiple flights were due to follow the same “counterclockwise orbit” with one helicopter containing a pilot and five passengers about to land, while the second had one pilot and six passengers getting ready to depart.
The report revealed the inbound helicopter was set to land at the southern heliport while the outbound was leaving from the pad to the north.
The helicopters collided just under 130 feet high and only 23 seconds after the departing helicopter left the ground.
Rotor blades from the outbound helicopter entered the forward cabin of the landing chopper, causing it to break apart in the air and fall into shallow water next to a sandbar, the report details.
New Zealand tourists Elmarie Steenberg and Marle Swart, who survived the Gold Coast Sea World Helicopter crash along with their husbands Riaan Steenberg and Edward Swart during the crash. Picture: Supplied
“The pilot and three passengers were fatally injured, and three passengers were seriously injured,” it says.
“The helicopter was destroyed.”
The outbound helicopter sustained “serious damage” to the front cabin and main rotor blades, but pilot Michael James managed to land on the sandbar after completing a 270 degree turn.
Radio calls were made by Mr James, who saw passengers boarding the second helicopter as it was preparing to depart but did not see the other helicopter take off.
Mr James told investigators he believed the departing helicopter would pass behind him.
“The pilot of the returning helicopter records that their assessment was the departing helicopter would pass behind them,” Mr Mitchell said.
“And he did not recall the pilot of the helicopter making a standard taxing call, thereby announcing their intentions to depart. This does not necessarily mean that the taxing call was not made.”
Footage shows the moment the helicopters collided. Picture: 9NEWS
A pilot from a nearby operator told investigators he heard Mr James announce he would be landing, but did not hear any response from the other pilot.
However, the report said another pilot told investigators he did not hear messages from either pilot.
Mr Mitchell said the factual information in the report was derived from interviews with survivors, including the pilot, witnesses and analysis of video footage including images from passengers, onlookers and CCTV.
“Conducted detailed examination of the wreckage of both helicopters and a review of the radio, recorded radio calls and aircraft tracking and radar data,” he said.
While video footage was taken by passengers in both helicopters, Mr Mitchell said it did not mean the pilots could see each other.
“The investigation will look closely at the issues both pilots faced in seeing the other helicopter,” Mr Mitchell said.
One of the helicopters broke apart in the air. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Scott Powick
“We have already generated a 3D model of the view from the pilot’s seat from an exemplar EC130 helicopter which we will use as part of a detailed visibility study to help the investigation determine the impediments both pilots faced in sighting the other helicopter.”
Both helicopters were fitted with a traffic collision avoidance system, but it had not been “fully integrated” and was only providing pilots with auditory alerts.
They had both only been in service for a matter of weeks at the time of the horrific accident.
Mr Mitchell said the full report may not be released for up to two years and it was important to stress the ATSB is “yet to make findings”.
Air crash investigators conducted two months of crucial early investigations after the accident left four people dead and seriously injured seven others.
Four people were killed in the horror crash. Picture: 9 News
Sea World Helicopters chief pilot Ash Jenkinson, British tourists Ron and Diane Hughes and Sydney woman Vanessa Tadros were killed.
Geelong woman Winnie De Silva, her son Leon and Ms Tadros’ 10-year-old son Nicholas were critically injured in the crash and rushed to hospital.
A spokesperson for Sea World Helicopters released a statement in the days following the horror crash, saying they deeply sympathised with everyone involved in the accident.
“We and the entire flying community are devastated by what has happened,” the spokesperson said.
“Our sincere condolences go to all those involved and especially the loved ones and family of the deceased.”