Men who died in gyrocopter crash at Capel were father and son Robert and James Waughman
Police have revealed two men killed in a gyrocopter crash near the holiday town of Busselton in WA’s South West were a 51-year-old father and his 18-year-old son.
- The victims are understood to have been experienced pilots from Perth
- Gyrocopters are considered relatively safe and easy aircraft to fly
- However there has been a run of fatal accidents related to human error
The men, Robert Waughman and his son James, both from Perth, died on Wednesday afternoon when their aircraft crashed about 10 metres from the shore as they were flying over Forrest beach.
They are believed to have been experienced gyrocopter pilots who regularly flew their small aircraft in the Busselton region.
A friend of James Waughman, who did not wish to be named, said she was finding it difficult to deal with his death.
“He was an exceptional human being and had so much love to give,” she said.
“This is such a tragedy and I’m still unable to fathom it all. He will be so dearly missed.”
Witness Bill Riding said he noticed the gyrocopter was making a “strange metallic sound” as it passed overhead about 2:00pm yesterday.
“We regularly get them [gyrocopters] flying overhead and they don’t make that noise which is why I noticed it,” he said.
‘A safe little aircraft to fly’
Civil Aviation Safety Authority spokesperson Peter Gibson said gyrocopters had a lot of appeal.
“They’re a very simple aircraft and they’re easy to fly,” he told ABC Radio Perth.
“They’re cheap, they’re small, easy to construct yourself if you want to put one together from a kit, so there’s a lot of attractions for people who want to get up in the air.
“You need about 20 hours of experience, 15 hours of training to be able to fly one.”
This gyrocopter, posted on James Waughman’s Instagram page, is believed to be the aircraft that crashed. (Instagram: j.waughman007)
Mr Gibson said they were a simple aircraft and a generally safe option.
“It’s got a propeller or fan at the rear of the aircraft that gives the propulsion forward and the top blade … is not powered by the engine, it’s powered effectively by the effect of the aircraft moving forward the air,” he said.
“They won’t aerodynamically stall if you lose forward propulsion, they basically sink slowly to the ground, so they’re a safe little aircraft to fly.
“They fly very slowly, [and are] very manoeuvrable.”
But Mr Gibson said gyrocopters had few safety features.
“There’s not much around you, so if something does go wrong, it’s a pretty unforgiving environment,” he said.
“It’s like riding a motorbike on the road — you’ve not got the protection of sitting in a car.”
He said the regulations were designed to ensure it was a safe as possible to fly gyrocopters, while recognising the risks.
These included not being able to fly above 500 metres or in controlled air spaces, or over built up areas.
“That’s why flying along the beach in a fantastic place to fly a gyrocopter,” Mr Gibson said.
Police will investigate the accident and prepare a report for the coroner.
Run of fatal gyrocopter accidents
Australian Sport Rotorcraft Association president Rick Elliot said there had been several fatal accidents involving gyrocopters recently.
“We’re going through what we call a very rough patch at the moment,” he told ABC Radio Perth.
“It’s very devastating to the families involved.”
Australian Transport Safety Bureau figures show 13 people died in gyrocopter accidents in the 10 years between 2008 and 2017.
“Gyrocopters had the greatest fatal accident rate per million hours flown,” an ATSB report found.
Mr Elliot said the association was sending an investigator from Brisbane to assist police in their enquiries.
“Generally 95 per cent of accidents come down to human error, unfortunately,” he said.
“I’m not saying that’s the case here or in the last few incidents, but generally more often than not that is the result.”
A witness described the gyrocopter as making a “strange metallic sound” before it crashed. (ABC News: Anthony Pancia)
He said gyrocopters were safe to operate in windy conditions.
“Gyrocopters have actually got a reputation for being one of the best aircraft to fly in turbulent conditions,” Mr Elliot said.
“Generally winds up to 20 even 30 knots is not a problem for a gyrocopter.”