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 January 2.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau says the pilot thought the second helicopter would pass behind his aircraft and he doesn’t remember the other pilot radioing him to say he was taking off.
Pilot Ashley Jenkinson (pictured), 40, and his passengers including British couple Ron and Diane Hughes, 65 and 57, and Sydney mother Vanessa Tadros, 36, were among the dead
Three pilots don’t recall a colleague radioing to say he was taking off before his aircraft collided with another helicopter, killing four people
‘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 Mr James’ 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 pilots involved in the crash before their aircraft collided.
However, ATSB 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 Mr 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,’ Mr Mitchell said.
‘The investigation will look closely at the issues both pilots faced in seeing the other helicopter.’
The finds are part of a preliminary report into the disaster led by Mr Mitchell.
‘We’re looking at everything that may have contributed, whether that be equipment, whether that be procedures whether that be individual actions … they will all be part (of the investigation),’ he said.
Sea World pilot Michael James managed to land his aircraft safely following the collision
The report found the operator ‘was aware that there was a problem with (Mr James’) aircraft’s transponder’.
‘The transponder (on the chopper piloted by Mr James) was not transmitting secondary surveillance radar responses that were detected by radar surveillance equipment for the accident flight or previous flights,’ the report said.
‘Efforts to diagnose and address the transponder problem were ongoing.’
Both choppers had been fitted with a traffic collision avoidance system but it was not fully integrated into either aircraft, according to the report.
It found it only provided auditory alerts, and not visual information, to pilots.
Four people died and nine people were injured, including three critically, when the two aircraft collided mid-air and crashed into the sandbar.
Pilot Ashley Jenkinson, 40, and his passengers including British couple Ron and Diane Hughes, 65 and 57, and Sydney mother Vanessa Tadros, 36, were among the dead.
Ms 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, Mr James, managed to land his aircraft safely, but he and two of his passengers were injured by flying glass when its windshield shattered.
The injured were New Zealand women Elmarie Steenberg and Marle Swart, who had been on holiday with their husbands Riaan Steenberg and Edward Swart.
The full ATSB report into the collision by the Air Transport Safety Bureau is not expected until at least September 2024.
KEY FINDINGS FROM THE INTERIM REPORT
- Chopper XH9 was landing when helicopter XKQ was taking off.
- Pilot Michael James said he did not recall hearing a ‘taxiing’ call from the aircraft that was taking off as he brought his helicopter to land.
- His recollection does not mean a call was not made.
- Mr James thought the other aircraft would pass behind him as it took off.
- The pilot did not see the other helicopter take off from the helipad.
- The operator was aware of a problem with the transponder on their landing helicopter.
- The choppers collided about 130 feet above ground.
- Both aircraft had taken off from two helipads about 220m apart and were scheduled to follow the same five-minute-long flight path.