Haunting 39 seconds before seaplane crash

Air crash investigators are focusing on the health of seaplane pilot Gareth Morgan as photographs taken by a passenger have pieced together the final minutes before last year's fatal New Year's Eve crash.

The photographs taken by William Cousins, 25, in the front passenger seat show the route taken by the pilot leaving its intended flight path from Cottage Point in Sydney's north and headed west into Jerusalem Bay where it nosedived into the water.

The final photos taken in the minutes before the seaplane crashed on New Year’s Eve. The report recreated the same photos to chart the final course.
The final photos taken in the minutes before the seaplane crashed on New Year’s Eve. The report recreated the same photos to chart the final course.
Investigators have mapped the final flight path of the plane.
Investigators have mapped the final flight path of the plane.

Nine photographs taken over 39 seconds show the weather was overcast and conditions were "standard" before the crash which killed William, his brother Edward, 23, their millionaire father Richard Cousins, 58, his girlfriend Emma Bowden, 48, her daughter Heather, 11, and the pilot.

The 1963 Sydney Seaplanes de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver floatplane was not overloaded and there was no evidence of a pre-existing aircraft defect or birdstrike or any other collision, the latest report from the Australian Transport Safety Board released yesterday said.

 

One of the passengers caught the final moments on camera.
One of the passengers caught the final moments on camera.

An examination of the plane's remains found the settings being used by Mr Morgan were within normal operations.

ATSB executive director of transport safety Nat Nagy said they had only recently received autopsy results.

"The ATSB's investigation is continuing and will now look at a number of factors surrounding

the pilot's health and medical history," Mr Nagy said.

 

A picture detailing the damage from the crash.
A picture detailing the damage from the crash.

 

"We have engaged an aviation medical specialist to review medical records as well as the autopsy results, which the ATSB has recently received over the past month."

Canadian-born Mr Morgan, 44, held an Australian Class 1 Aviation Medical Certificate valid until March 6 2018 and he was reported to have a high standard of health and fitness, the report said.

He had made the trip from Rose Bay to Cottage Point, where he was picking the group up after lunch, at least 780 times including five on New Year's Eve.

Investigators are now looking at why he flew into Jerusalem Bay, which is a dead end.

The photographs were retrieved from a Canon EOS 40D digital camera found in the cabin of VH-NOO and identified as belonging to William Cousins.

 

Collision with water involving de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Mk 1, (Beaver), VH-NOO, Jerusalem Bay (Hawkesbury River), New South Wales, on 31 December 2017.
Collision with water involving de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Mk 1, (Beaver), VH-NOO, Jerusalem Bay (Hawkesbury River), New South Wales, on 31 December 2017.

With no in-flight data, the police Forensic Imaging section conducted a re-enactment flight to establish the aircraft's location and altitude at the time each of the photographs were taken.

The last photo was snapped through the front windscreen with the aircraft in a right bank over Little Shark Rock Point heading south towards Cowan Bay.

It crashed about 1.75km later.

Sydney Seaplanes CEO Aaron Shaw, who grounded his fleet for a time after the tragedy, welcomed the interim report.

"We are pleased that the ATSB has ruled that the aircraft was in excellent airworthy condition, that our pilot, Gareth, was experienced, highly qualified and highly trained and passed fit and healthy to fly, and that all maintenance and safety procedures were followed," he said/

"We continue to offer our support in whatever capacity is needed to the ATSB and NSW Police as they determine what would appear to have caused Gareth to become incapacitated."

An inquest into the tragedy expected to be held next year with the case mentioned on February 4 in the NSW Coroner's Court.