A pilot “did not recall” his fellow pilot making a standard taxing 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 said the 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 close by.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau said the pilot thought the second helicopter would pass behind his aircraft and that he doesn’t remember the other pilot radioing him to announce his departure.
“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.
There was a third helicopter pilot nearby at the time, and he recalled hearing Mr James’ inbound call but did not recall hearing a taxi call from the other pilot taking off.
A fourth helicopter pilot said he could not recall hearing calls from either of the two pilots involved in the crash before their aircrafts collided.
ATSB commissioner Angus Mitchel 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 leading up to the crash.
The report said that Mr James also told the ATSB he never saw 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 findings are part of a preliminary report into the collision 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.” he said.
The report also stated the operator “was aware that there was a problem with Mr James’ aircraft transponder”.
“The transponder was not transmitting secondary surveillance radar responses that were detected by radar surveillance equipment for the accident flight or previous flights,” the report said, in reference to Mr James’ chopper.
“Efforts to diagnose and address the transponder problem were ongoing.”
According to the report, both aircrafts had been fitted with a traffic collision avoidance system, however, it was not fully integrated into either of the helicopters.
The report found the system only provided the pilots with auditory alerts, not visual information.
Four people died, and nine people were injured, including three in critical condition as a result of the two aircrafts colliding mid-air and crashing into the sandbar.
Pilot Ashley Jenkinson, 40, and his passengers, including British couple Ron and Diane, 65 and 57, and Sydney mother Vanessa Tadros, 36, all died.
Ms Tadros’ son Nicholas, 10, has been undergoing medical procedures since the incident and last week had his leg amputated from the knee down.
Victorian mother Winnie de Silva, 33, and her nine-year-old son are recovering from injuries sustained from the crash.
The pilot of the second helicopter, Mr James, managed to land his chopper safely, but he and two of his passengers were injured by shards of glass flying out when the aircraft’s windshield smashed.
The injured passengers 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 accident by the Air Transport Safety Bureau will not be expected until at least September 2024.
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This article first appeared on Over60.