A helicopter pilot reported that he did not hear a radio call from another helicopter shortly before a fatal collision in Australia that killed four people including a British couple, a report has suggested.
The interim accident report by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) also said the two sightseeing helicopters on the Gold Coast may not have been able to see each other.
The helicopters were being used for sightseeing trips by Sea World Helicopters and one appeared to have been taking off and the other landing when they collided. One managed to land a sandbank with severe damage but debris from the other was spread across an area that was difficult to access, police said.
At least one passenger attempted to give the pilot “verbal guidance” because they could see the other helicopter getting closer. “As the verbal guidance did not work, and anticipating a potential collision, one passenger physically alerted the pilot,” the report said.
“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,” ATSB Chief Commissioner Angus Mitchell said.
Diane, 57, and Ron Hughes, 65, from Neston, Cheshire, died in the collision at around 2pm local time – 4am GMT – on 2 January in Main Beach, not far from Sea World in the state of Queensland.
The couple were from Liverpool and married in 2021, their families confirmed in a statement.
Mr Mitchell said: “The ATSB has released this preliminary report to detail the circumstances of this tragic accident as we currently understand them, but it is important to stress that we are yet to make findings. Our findings as to the contributing factors to this accident, and the analysis to support those findings, will be detailed in a final report to be released at the conclusion of our investigation.”
He added: “The investigation will look closely at the issues both pilots faced in seeing the other helicopter.”
He said they had created a 3D model of the view from the pilot’s seat from an exemplar helicopter to use “as part of a detailed visibility study to help the investigation determine the impediments both pilots faced in sighting the other helicopter”.
The report said one of the pilots did not recall hearing a radio call from the other pilot to say he was taking off but “this does not necessarily mean that a taxi call was not made”.
Queensland Police said the pilot of the incoming helicopter and three passengers died at the scene, including the couple and Vanessa Tadros, 36, from Glenmore Park, New South Wales. Her 10-year-old son was among the survivors but was seriously injured.
The pilot was Ashley Jenkinson, 40, who lived in the area but was reportedly originally from England.