The British couple who died in a horrifying crash involving two helicopters in Australia yesterday were on the trip of a lifetime visiting their family, it has been revealed.
Ron and Diane Hughes, aged 65 and 57, were two of four victims who lost their lives when the helicopters collided mid-air in front of hundreds of horrified tourists.
Mr and Mrs Hughes, from Merseyside, married in August 2021 and had been on holiday in Australia visiting Mr Hughes’ daughter Jane Manns and his grandchildren.
Pilot Ash Jenkinson, 40, who grew up in the West Midlands before moving Down Under and had recently become a father, was the third British victim.
Australian mother Vanessa Tadros, 36, who is believed to be related to Mr and Mrs Hughes, was also fatally injured when the aircraft plunged to the ground near Sea World on Queensland’s Gold Coast.
She had boarded the aircraft with her son Nicholas who survived the crash but is in a critical condition.
The ten-year-old was pulled from the wreckage and rushed to hospital with serious injuries, where family members, including his father who saw the collision happen from the ground, remain by his bedside.
Ron and Diane Hughes, pictured here on their wedding day, were two of four people killed in the helicopter crash
Australian mother Vanessa Tadros, pictured here, was the fourth person confirmed to have died in the incident
Birmingham-born Ash Jenkinson, pictured here with his family, was described by heartbroken friends as a ‘top gun’
Workers lift one of the damaged helicopters out of the water after the crash on Australia’s Gold Coast yesterday
Experienced pilot Michael James (right) has been praised for remaining calm during the horror Sea World crash that killed four. He survived the crash and was flying one of the helicopters
The timeline to tragedy – 20 seconds that cost four lives
Two other people on board – Winnie De Silva, 33, and nine-year-old Leon – were also hospitalised.
Of the six occupants in the other helicopter, flown by Michael James, five suffered minor injuries while one left the scene unscathed.
Mrs Manns and her husband Ben said in a statement to 7News: ‘Our family is heartbroken and we are still trying to contact friends and family to let them know. Please respect our privacy at this devastating time.’
Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll hinted that criminal charges could be filed but it was ‘still early days’ in the investigation.
Commissioner Carroll asked the public to be ‘patient’ with the probe, led by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.
‘They are quite comprehensive investigations. We will prepare a report for the Coroner and assist the ATSB.’
‘We have got a lot of work to do; ATSB have got a lot of work to do. These are meticulous investigations that need to be done exceptionally well.’
The collision occurred just 20 seconds after the lower aircraft took off and the two Eurocopter EC130s collided around 250ft off the ground.
As the first chopper gained altitude, it smashed into the second aircraft, which appeared to be descending.
The churning rotors of the first helicopter ripped into the cabin of the second one, shattering its glass cockpit just centimetres from the pilot and passengers inside.
Witnesses said they saw a terrifying cloud of broken glass and debris explode as the two aircraft ploughed into each other in mid-air.
The devastating force of the collision ripped the rotor unit and gearbox from the lower chopper, immediately sending it hopelessly tumbling out of control.
It spun upside down and plummeted to the ground below, smashing into a sandbar, killing the pilot, Mr and Mrs Hughes and Ms Tadros on impact.
Mr James meanwhile managed to land his aircraft upright on a sandbar between Sea World and Gold Coast’s popular Broadwater beach.
Veteran joy-flight tour boss, Gold Coast Heli-Tours director Scott Menzies praised how Mr James handled himself as yesterday’s tragedy unfolded.
Mr Menzies, who was in the air nearby at the time of the crash, said it was remarkable the pilot was able to land his craft safely in the moments after the collision, saving his and five passengers’ lives.
‘I think [James] did a great job to keep himself under control knowing that he probably would have had a lot of shrapnel wounds and bits and pieces and a lot of failures to deal with,’ Mr Menzies told Daily Mail Australia.
‘So I think he did a bloody fantastic job under the circumstances to try and get the thing back on the ground.
‘I mean, really, you know, we are looking at a double… you know, we’re looking at 13 people dead on that one.
Mr and Mrs Hughes, who hail from Merseyside, married in August 2021 and had been on holiday in Australia
Friend Deanie White posted in a local Facebook group about Mr Jenkinson’s death, saying the pilot few over supplies during a flood in February last year
The incident happened on Australia’s Gold Coast, close to the city of Brisbane, in Queensland
‘I mean, really and truly, there’s not too many mid-air collisions where one aircraft can actually land. If you think about it. It’s nearly impossible that it happened… especially helicopters.
‘He did a good job just to keep it all together and calm down. A very good job under the circumstances.’
Local nurse Cecilia Marchisella was at the beach with her son during the crash about 2pm on Monday.
Ms Marchisella said she felt ‘compelled’ to pay tribute to the victims after seeing a Facebook post about the memorial site today.
She was the first person to bring an offering to the dedicated floral tribute site at Broadwater Parklands, laying a bunch of sunflowers, accompanied by her son and mother.
‘I just really feel for those people and their families,’ she told the Gold Coast Bulletin.
Ms Marchisella said: ‘Being a nurse, I felt if I could have got there, I could have helped in some way.
‘I think that’s what hit me really hard. I feel like I just wanted to help, but I couldn’t.’
Initial investigations indicate the crash occurred around 2pm (4am GMT) when one helicopter was landing and another was taking off.
Queensland nurse Cecilia Marchisella was at the beach with her son when the helicopter crash occurred about 2pm on Monday, and said she ‘just wanted to help, but I couldn’t’
Government investigators are scouring through footage and the wreckage of the aircraft to determine how the pilots failed to see each other before the crash.
The incident took place yesterday near Sea World, although the helicopters are operated by a separate company to the resort.
Mr Jenkinson was behind the controls of a helicopter that had picked up tourists for a pleasure ride over the picturesque coastal region.
The 40-year-old had welcomed a son, Kayden, in September 2021, with his wife, Kosha.
One of his friends paid tribute to the pilot, calling him a ‘top guy, top gun and best dad’.
Another friend Deanie White posted in a local Facebook group: ‘I am so sad and am very sorry to be the bearer of terrible news.
‘The helicopter pilot, Ash “Jenko” Jenkinson, who brought emergency supplies from the skies in a Sea World helicopter to Ballina Shire flood survivors in February 2022 died today in a helicopter crash.
‘If you heard my call and brought supplies to Kingsford Smith Park to be choppered out to flood survivors – Ash flew them there. If you received bags of food and loo paper and nappies via helicopter from Ballina, Ash brought them to you.
‘He was a kind, generous man. If it wasn’t for Ash, those flights would never have happened.
‘His friends who were also involved in that civilian flood response have asked me to share this sad news with you. I thought he was invincible. He was humble and had a big heart. I can’t believe he is gone. Vale Ash.’
Ritchie Gregg said: ‘I heard [about the crash] at ten past two. So I sent the message and was waiting for an answer.
‘When he and Kosha had their son he was the most excited dad. [Kosha] is very silent, she’s in shock Kayden… would probably be asking where dad is.
He added that ‘family was his biggest thing’ and Mr Jenkinson had married Kosha last October.
Mr Gregg said: ‘Ash had the biggest heart and was the happiest guy. When he’d finished work flying he’d be straight home to see his boy.’
A worker attaches a winch to the rotor blades of one of the helicopters this morning
Members of the air ambulance air lifted a child to hospital following the crash yesterday
Wreckage of two helicopters that crashed near Sea World on Australia’s Gold Coast
Mr Jenkinson, pictured here with his wife Kosha, was the pilot of one of the helicopters and died after it crashed
Two other people were also injured including mother Winnie De Silva, 33 (pictured), and nine-year-old Leon
Video footage from the moments before the crash shows the two helicopters converging on each other, with horrified witnesses shouting ‘no!’ upon realising they will collide.
One family described seeing ‘the pilot and two elderly people in the front, a lady and a little boy next to her in the back, and another person next to them’ get on board the aircraft before the crash.
One witness described seeing people desperately trying to save the life of a youngster after he was left unable to breathe.
Travis Slatter, a Gold Coast resident, said he saw a ‘lady that put a tube in the boy’s throat to get him to breathe’, which sparked a response from the child.
‘It was a relief that there was some sign of life, I hope he pulls through, but he has a lot to deal with after what happened,’ he said.
Mr Slatter added that the second pilot ‘saved a lot of lives today’, writing on Facebook: ‘To see him first hand and how cut up he was and for a second he it looked like he was going to drop out of the sky too, but managed to put it down is crazy.’
Gary Worrell, acting inspector at Queensland State Police, said: ‘Members of the public and police tried to remove the people and they commenced first aid and tried to get those people to safety from an airframe that was upside down.
‘Jet skis, family boaters, ordinary members of the public rushed to assist these people.’
Mr Jenkinson, pictured, died after the collision between the aircraft caused the helicopter to plunge into the sandbank
A police officer looks at the damaged cockpit of one of the helicopters following the fatal mid-air crash
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) is now investigating the cause of the crash to determine whether a communication error, system malfunction or something else led to the collision.
A UK Foreign Office spokesman said: ‘We are supporting the family of two British nationals who died in Australia and are in contact with the local authorities.’
Sea World Helicopters said: ‘We and the entire flying community are devastated by what has happened and our sincere condolences go to all those involved and especially the loved ones and family of the deceased.’
Village Roadshow Theme Parks, which operates Sea World, said it offered its ‘deepest condolences to all those impacted’ by the tragedy.
‘While Sea World Helicopters is an independent professional operator, VRTP is working with emergency services and the authorities to provide every possible assistance,’ it said.
‘We are providing support to our team members who have been emotionally affected by the tragedy.
‘As it is now a police investigation, we cannot provide any further information at this stage.’
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese tweeted that country had been shocked by the ‘news of the terrible and tragic’ incident.
He wrote: ‘My thoughts are with all those affected, including first responders, and my deepest sympathies are with those who are grieving.’
Investigators stand by the wreckage of one of the helicopters after the fatal mid-air crash on Australia’s Gold Coast
Lifeguards and police arrive at the scene of the crash by boat yesterday
At a press conference this morning, Angus Mitchell, chief commissioner of the bureau, said the rotor blade from Mr Jenkinson’s helicopter hit the cockpit of the second aircraft.
This led to the ‘main rotor and the gearbox separating from that (ascending) helicopter which has meant tragically that it then had no lift and has fallen tragically to the ground,’ he said
‘The second helicopter coming into land has remarkably managed to land upright considering the damage that was done to the front left-hand section of that helicopter… the fact that helicopter has managed to land has been quite remarkable.’
He said the accident happened just a couple of hundred metres from the landing pad at Seaworld and 200 to 300 metres in the air.
‘Transport safety investigators with experience in helicopter operations, maintenance and survivability engineering are deploying from the ATSB’s Brisbane and Canberra offices and are expected to begin arriving at the accident site from Monday afternoon.
‘During the evidence-gathering phase of the investigation, ATSB investigators will examine the wreckage and map the accident site.’
‘Investigators will also recover any relevant components for further examination at the ATSB’s technical facilities in Canberra, gather any available recorded data for analysis, and interview witnesses and other involved parties.’
Sea World Helicopters had been operating at the site for about three decades and conditions appeared ideal on the day of the crash with clear skies.
In 1991 seven people were killed when a helicopter from the company plunged into nearby South Stradbroke Island and burst into flames.
An investigation by the Bureau of Air Safety later found that the pilot, Glen Wells, 27, had collapsed at the controls, causing the crash.
Since then the fleet has been upgraded, with all helicopters fitted with Spidertracks GPS locating systems, which are designed to alert pilots to other aircraft in the vicinity.
In an interview for the company in 2021, Mr Jenkinson described the system as ‘easy’ to use and called it ‘very reliable and accurate’.