SEAPLANE CRASH RECOVERYAir crash investigators are mystified as to why a Sydney Seaplanes pilot left the normal flight path and headed into Jerusalem Bay shortly before his plane crashed killing all six people on board.
The n Transport Safety Bureau officials likened the plane’s unusual course to someone turning into a dead-end street instead of onto the freeway.
The bureau’s preliminary report into the fatal New Year’s Eve incident – released on Wednesday – found no evidence of problems with the DHC-2 Beaver.
The seaplane, piloted by Canadian Gareth Morgan, crashed into the Hawkesbury River on December 31 with high profile UK businessman Richard Cousins and his family on board.
Bureau executive director Nat Nagy says the investigation will examine whether someone suffered a medical episode. The ATSB is still waiting on autopsy reports from the coroner.
While engine and propeller experts are working to rule out less obvious mechanical faults the investigation is now focused on Mr Morgan’s actions moments before the crash.
The expected flight path should have seen Mr Morgan taxi away from Cottage Point, take off and turn east to gain altitude over the Hawkesbury River.
Instead, he turned northwest and, flying below the height of the mountainous terrain, entered Jerusalem Bay and made a sharp right-hand turn before the plane dropped nose-down into the water.
“One of the key lines of inquiry, for us now, is to work out exactly what was happening throughout that time,” Mr Nagy told reporters in Sydney.
“Firstly, why the pilot turned that way, and then whether it was an attempt to turn around or whether it was a planned turn as well.”
Sydney Seaplanes chief executive Aaron Shaw says the Beaver was not supposed to be in the bay and the sharp turn before the crash was “totally inexplicable”.
“It is not a route we authorise in our landing and take-off area register and the plane simply should not have been where it was,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.
“The aircraft is then reported to have entered into an 80 to 90-degree bank angle turn.
“A turn of this nature at low altitude by a pilot with Gareth’s skills, experience and intimate knowledge of the location is totally inexplicable.”
AAP understands Sydney Seaplanes pilots are instructed to never fly through Jerusalem Bay.
Aircraft engineer Michael Greenhill, familiar with ‘s Beaver planes, has in the past seen some pilots fly into the bay.
“It’s not an everyday occurrence but, from time to time, they use the bay to turn around,” he told AAP.
Mr Greenhill said the tailwind mentioned in the ATSB report would have made it harder to complete such a low-speed, low-altitude turn.
“(I’m) not sure why he was there this day,” he said.
“Sounds like to tight a turn with not enough airspeed to me … with a headwind he may have been fine.”
Mr Nagy says the seaplane would have struggled to achieve the lift required to escape the bay’s steep terrain.
The final investigation report will take many more months, Mr Nagy said, but critical aircraft safety information will be released before then.
The ATSB wants to hear from witnesses who may have seen any part of the plane’s flight from Cottage Point to its turn into Jerusalem Bay to help piece together the final minutes of the doomed flight.