Seaplane ‘destroyed’ in ‘96 crash
THE seaplane that crashed killing six people north of Sydney on New Year's Eve had been "destroyed" in a fatal accident and rebuilt, an Australian Transport Safety Bureau report shows.
WA Today reports the aircraft involved in the crash had previously flown as a crop duster with a different registration but the same serial number. It was involved in a fatal accident that killed a pilot in November 1996 during hot gusty winds in NSW.
The report from that incident notes that the plane "did not seem to be climbing sufficiently to pass over the hill in front of it."
"The aircraft was then seen to be in a climbing left turn, toward the driver with superphosphate dumping from it. The aircraft's left wingtip contacted the ground after which the aircraft cartwheeled and came to rest 200-300 meters from the superphosphate dump," it said.
"The driver ran down to the aircraft and found the pilot still strapped in the seat with no apparent sign of life. He moved the pilot clear of the aircraft in case of fire and then summoned help." The report listed the plane as "destroyed" with the accident "fatal."
The plane had since been rebuilt and made safe to fly, WA Today claims. It's believed to have changed hands several times before being bought by Sydney Seaplanes.
Previous owners said they found the plane "reliable", while Sydney Seaplanes boss Aaron Shaw said earlier this week the engines were replaced for every 1100 flying hours - faster than the industry standard and the plane in question had only flown 200 hours.
FORMER CLIENTS SHARE FOOTAGE OF PILOT
It comes as friends and former clients of pilot Gareth Morgan shared footage of him flying on a tribute page for the well-loved airman.
Vietnamese woman Tam Phan posted that she travelled in the same model of DHC-2 Beaver seaplane in July 2017 along with a video from the trip.
"Gareth was so nice with his good sense of humour that made us feel so comfortable and enjoy the whole experience," she wrote.
"It was one of our most memorable days as a couple. We are so sad to hear the news. Our condolences go to Gareth's family and loved ones."
Another former client Sun Ny Fung also posted an eight second clip and said she travelled with him in September 2017.
"Seemed like a nice guy. RIP," she said.
Nikki Holdaway wrote that she was also "fortunate enough" to be on one of his flights in July 2017 and was devastated by his death.
"Despite our very brief encounter, and him being a man of few words, I remember him very well. I don't really know why, but there must have been something very special about him for me to remember him so clearly. This is utterly devastating - I hope you are at peace Gareth xx," she said.
Others shared pictures and memories of their friendship with the devout Christian on a page called Gareth Morgan, Man after God's Heart. They wrote at being crushed at the shock death of the experienced pilot, who has been described as a "true gentleman with a big heart" by his local pastor.
The Daily Telegraph reports the 44-year-old always prayed before his flights and read the Bible daily. A flatmate described his kindness and geniality.
Morgan was killed in the crash along with his passengers, a UK family including Richard Cousins, his two adult sons Edward and William, his fiancee Emma Bowden and her 11-year-old daughter when the plane plunged into Jerusalem Bay on December 31.
NSW police will attempt to recover the Sydney Seaplanes DHC-2 Beaver from the Hawkesbury River on Thursday in an operation that's expected to start at dawn and run into the afternoon.
All Waterfront Constructions plans to use a crane on a barge to pull the seaplane - which is resting on its roof - from the riverbed. Two slings will be lowered and passed through the aircraft's cabin by police divers, operations director Chris Kemp told AAP on Wednesday. "Then we'll be lifting the whole lot up and placing it on the barge," he said.
Investigators are working to determine what could have caused the plane to ditch into the river and sink rapidly, despite efforts from witnesses to haul it back to the surface.
An experienced aircraft engineer familiar with Sydney's seaplane fleet says even the best warning equipment may not have been enough to prevent the crash and one possibility is the plane stalled in midair.
Aircraft maintenance engineer Michael Greenhill told AAP on Wednesday that while it is not mandatory in Australia for Beaver planes to have stall warnings installed most do.
"A stall is when the airflow over the aircraft's wing becomes insufficient enough to produce lift," Mr Greenhill said. "So basically the wing stops flying."
A Canadian report, published in September 2017, recommended the warning system be mandatory on all Beavers.
Mr Greenhill has flown in the plane that crashed on New Year's Eve. He couldn't remember if it had the warning system installed but said it may not have helped in any case.
"Even if the Beaver had this system fitted there's a large possibility there would have been insufficient time to rectify the situation due to the low altitude and approaching terrain."
Fans of the Beaver aircraft have warned in online forums that the plane can stall in sharp-banked turns because of its wing shape.
Mr Greenhill says most pilots are aware of this "unique" element of the plane's design.
He said the Beaver was one of the most highly regarded planes in operation and, despite their age, were considered among the safest in the world. Sydney Seaplanes had a good reputation as did Mr Morgan, the engineer added. The ATSB is investigating witnesses' claims the plane made a right-hand turn before it fell into the water.
"(But) it's important not to draw any conclusions that this is a systemic issue," ATSB executive director Nat Nagy told reporters this week.
The wreckage of the plane is expected to be recovered about midday on Thursday before being taken to a reserve in Bayview.
Investigators hope crucial data can be recovered from the plane's avionics instruments. Smartphones or cameras on board could also be used to piece together its final moments.
Former British MP Gerry Bowden, whose daughter and granddaughter were among those killed, says their loss has been felt deeply but their memory will shine brightly forever.
"Gerry Bowden and all his family are devastated by the loss of dear Emma and dear Heather who spread happiness and joy among all they met throughout their lives," the family said in a statement to London's The Telegraph.
"We were looking forward to the wedding in the (northern hemisphere) summer. Emma and Richard were so obviously in love and looking forward to a life together."
Sydney Seaplanes has suspended all flights indefinitely following the tragedy.
- With Perry Duffin, Tom Rabe