Heroic onlookers pull survivors from chopper tragedy

THREE people have been saved by heroic onlookers after a helicopter crash in the Whitsundays which claimed the lives of two tourists.

In dramatic scenes on Wednesday, brave witnesses to the crash rescued two passengers and the pilot, plucking them from the ocean as the helicopter sank.

Hardy Reef site of helicopter crash
Hardy Reef site of helicopter crash

With emergency services still more than an hour away, the witnesses performed CPR on two other passengers who were also pulled from the water, while listening to instructions from paramedics on a phone call.

But despite their efforts, the critically injured man and woman could not be saved.

The two international tourists were killed when an Airbus H120, owned by Whitsunday Air Services, botched its landing at Hardy Reef Heliport, northeast of Hamilton Island, about 3.35pm. Emergency services received reports of the crash about 4.10pm.

CHOPPER TRAGEDY: Police return to mainland with bodies 

The crash, which left the helicopter fully submerged, happened within metres of popular Heart Pontoon - used as a base for scuba divers and snorkellers.

A helicopter has crashed at Hardy Reef, 65km northeast of the Whitsundays. FILE PICTURE
A helicopter has crashed at Hardy Reef, 65km northeast of the Whitsundays. FILE PICTURE


Whitsunday Air Services said that the helicopter was on final approach for a landing at its Hardy Reef Heliport when the crash occurred.

"We are extremely saddened by this incident and our deepest condolences are with the families of all of the passengers," the company said in a statement.

"Whitsunday Air Services is continuing to work with the Queensland Police, the ATSB and CASA to assist with their investigations. Whitsunday Air Services will be suspending all operations while a full review process is undertaken."

Whitsunday Air Services operates at least two Airbus H120s, which were previously manufactured by Eurocopter as the EC120B.

A team of detectives were last night en route to the scene via ferry and with water police.

A helicopter has crashed at Hardy Reef, 65km northeast of the Whitsundays. FILE PICTURE
A helicopter has crashed at Hardy Reef, 65km northeast of the Whitsundays. FILE PICTURE

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau said its investigators would also travel to the scene. "There, investigators will interview witnesses, examine any available recorded data, review operational records and technical documentation among other activities," the ATSB said in a statement.

"The evidence collection phase will also define the size and scope of the investigation and determine the expected time frame for the completion of a final report. No further information is available at this time. Should a critical safety issue be identified during the course of the investigation, the ATSB will immediately notify relevant parties."

Whitsundays councillor Ron Petterson said it was "a sad, heartbreaking day".

"I ask that we all keep our thoughts and prayers tonight with those involved in today's tragic accident," he said.

The three injured people, including the male pilot and a male and female passenger, believed to be from overseas, were being taken by sea to a medical facility for treatment, police said last night.

The fatal crash was the region's second serious chopper incident in four months.

On November 8 a Whitsunday Air Services helicopter was forced to conduct an emergency landing on the water near Hamilton Island.

The Robinson R44 was conducting an afternoon scenic flight with three passengers on board when it suffered engine power loss. The pilot and the three passengers were uninjured, but the helicopter later sank and could not be recovered.

An ATSB investigation found adequate preparation and the pilot's actions lead to a positive outcome from the emergency ditching.






A MALE pilot was taken to hospital following a light plane crash in rural southwest Queensland about 3:30pm Wednesday.

Police believe the male pilot was mustering on private property at Quilpie, west of Charleville.

A Queensland Ambulance Services spokesman said the man suffered lower limb and internal injuries from the crash.