A COUPLE killed in a shock helicopter crash had waited their whole lives to find each other and were on their dream honeymoon to the Whitsundays, it has emerged.
Pete and Sue Hensel, from Hawaii, had longed to visit the Great Barrier Reef, but during a scenic flight over the world-famous coral, the chopper plunged into crystal-clear waters by Hardy Reef pontoon, off Hamilton Island.
Mr Hensel, 79, and Mrs Hensel, 65, died after the crash on Wednesday afternoon, and three others on board were taken to the mainland and treated for non-life-threatening injuries.
The survivors are believed to be Mrs Hensel’s daughter, 33, and her partner, 34, as well as the 35-year-old Whitsunday Air Services pilot, the Courier Mail reported. They were saved by heroic onlookers, who jumped into the water to drag them to safety as the helicopter sank.
Mackay District Inspector Ian Haughton said the pilot pulled Mrs Hensel out of the front passenger seat before frantic attempts were made to revive the couple. He praised the efforts of those who “just kept going” with the CPR.
“It’s an exceptionally long time,” he said. “It shows great community spirit, that people are willing to do what they did.
“It was a normal flight … On this occasion something went wrong and the consequences were tragic.
“This is a traumatic experience for any involved in the situation”.
The Hensels married in December but friends said they had long been planning “their trip of a lifetime”, setting out from Kona, Hawaii, earlier this month. Mrs Hensel’s daughter and son-in-law joined the happy couple from their home in Colorado.
Pete’s friend of 25 years, Vern Ungerecht, told the Courier-Mail the couple had “a beautiful story” and were “so happy”, from his home in Hawaii.
“Both of them had been single forever, so when they got together they had never been so happy,” said Mr Ungerecht.
“We used to have drinks with them at the bar almost every day. Pete doesn’t say much, but Sue, she was always chatting and smiling.”
Friend Ron Coleman told the newspaper: “They just got closer and closer and finally got married.
“It’s been a real shock to us, oh my God, they were a fixture, you’d go in there and they’d be there. Now they won’t be there anymore.”
Queensland Police confirmed two people had died in the crash at about 3.35pm on Wednesday, while three people were being treated for non-life-threatening injuries.
“A man and a woman who are believed to be international tourists were recovered from the helicopter and pronounced deceased at the scene,” police said in a statement on Wednesday night.
It is understood the helicopter crashed into water 250 metres from the pontoon.
The pilot had already attempted to land the Airbus H120 several times, according to 9News.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau said on Wednesday evening a crash investigation was being launched. “A team of Transport Safety Investigators will soon travel to the accident location to commence the evidence collection phase of the investigation,” an ATSB statement said.
“There, investigators will interview witnesses, examine any available recorded data, review operational records and technical documentation amongst other activities.”
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk passed on her condolences to the couple’s families. “Visitors come to our state for its beauty and its safety,” she said. “Their families should know how deeply we feel their loss.”
Whitsunday Mayor Andrew Wilcox said the community was heartbroken. “It will be sombre day for us in the Whitsundays. My thoughts and prayers at this stage are with the families affected by this,” he told ABC radio.
Tourism Whitsundays CEO Craig Turner also offered his condolences. “I’d also like to praise the quick-thinking actions of those that helped at the scene,” he said. “Our thoughts are with the families and those affected by this tragic incident.”
A US Embassy spokesman said in a statement: “We are aware of the deaths of two US citizens in Queensland. We are providing all appropriate consular assistance. Due to privacy considerations, we do not have anything further to add at this time.”
The crash follows another incident involving a helicopter operated by the same company late last year. On November 8, 2017, a Robinson R44 helicopter operated by Whitsunday Air Services sank around 49km north of Hamilton Island Airport with three passengers on board.
The pilot deployed the aircraft’s emergency flotation system and all on-board were rescued uninjured.
The ATSB found the helicopter had experienced a “partial engine power loss”, for unknown reasons. No one was found to be at fault.