Cockpit photos show final moments of doomed Sydney seaplane flight
A photograph retrieved from the camera of a passenger on board the seaplane. (Supplied: Australian Transport Safety Bureau)
Photos taken from the cockpit of a doomed seaplane suggest the aircraft changed direction dramatically before it plunged into a creek north of Sydney on New Year’s Eve.
- Six people died when the plane crashed into Cowan Creek on New Year’s Eve
- Photographs from the cockpit have helped piece together its final movements
- Investigators say the pilot, Gareth Morgan, was fit and healthy and maintained a “regimented” routine
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has released an interim factual report into the 2017 accident, which claimed the life of pilot Gareth Morgan and five passengers from the United Kingdom.
The chief executive of catering giant Compass, Richard Cousins, his two adult sons, his fiancee and her 11-year old daughter were being flown from Cottage Point to Rose Bay when the plane plunged into Cowan Creek.
The pictures were recovered from the corroded memory card of a camera that belonged to the passenger sitting in the cockpit.
The images show the plane taking off from Cottage Point and heading northeast towards the Hawkesbury River, from where it was expected to head for Rose Bay.
Investigators managed to retrieve several photographs from an eroded memory card. (Supplied: Australian Transport Safety Bureau)
This was confirmed by a witness who took a photo of the plane.
However, witnesses later saw the aircraft heading in the opposite direction towards Jerusalem Bay, flying below the altitude of the surrounding hills.
It then started a steep right–hand turn and plunged almost vertically into the water.
Witnesses told investigators the tail and part of the floats were initially visible above the waterline, but within 10 minutes the entire wreckage became submerged.
A map released by the ATSB shows the likely path of the plane. (Supplied: Australian Transport Safety Bureau)
On 4 January, the wreckage of the DHC–2 Beaver was recovered from the water. Investigators found no evidence of a bird strike or an in–flight breakup.
They also found no evidence to suggest the flight controls had failed.
Samples of the aircraft’s fuel were taken and showed no sign of contamination.
The plane had no cockpit voice or flight data recorder and it was not required to have one.
Witness photographs show the plane’s journey before it crashed. (Supplied: Australian Transport Safety Bureau)
Plane rebuilt after previous fatal crash
The plane was involved in a fatal crash in 1996 while being used for agricultural operations.
It was rebuilt in 1999, converted to a float–plane and certified as being airworthy.
“There was nothing to indicate the rebuild 18 years before had any connection with this accident,” the ATSB said.
Investigators said the plane appeared to have been properly maintained by the operator, Sydney Seaplanes.
“The aircraft’s logbook statement indicated that it was being maintained in accordance with the operator’s approved system of maintenance,” the report said.
Investigators dig into pilot’s medical history
In the absence of an obvious cause of the crash, investigators are digging deeper into the medical history of pilot, 44–year–old Gareth Morgan.
Mr Morgan, an experienced pilot, was considered to be fit and healthy and his friends said his routine was “regimented.”
“The pilot would exercise regularly, eat healthily and would usually go to bed around [9pm] on a work night,” the ATSB said.
NSW Police and salvage personnel work to recover the wreckage of the seaplane. (AAP: Mick Tsikas)
Witnesses who had spoken to Mr Morgan before the crash said he appeared “upbeat and happy”.
In a statement, ATSB Executive director of transport safety Nat Nagy said the results of Mr Morgan’s autopsy were only recently received.
“We have engaged an aviation medical specialist to assist with reviewing the pilot’s medical records as well as the autopsy results, which the ATSB has recently received over the past month,” Mr Nagy said.
“That review is now underway and we expect the results to appear from that over the coming months.”
The ATSB’s final report is due in the first half on next year.