Tuesday 24 April 2018

Seaplane that crashed killing family has history of accidents

A Sydney Seaplanes' single-engine DHC-2 Beaver Seaplane. Photo: David Oates/PA
A Sydney Seaplanes' single-engine DHC-2 Beaver Seaplane. Photo: David Oates/PA

Robert Mendick

The same model of seaplane which crashed killing five Britons including a FTSE-100 chief executive had caused the deaths of another British family two years before.

Air accident investigators in Australia are examining the wreckage of the De Havilland DHC-2 Beaver to determine why it nosedived into a river outside Sydney, killing all on board.

The 55-year-old seaplane had been chartered on New Year's Eve by Richard Cousins, the retiring chief executive of the £25bn (€28bn) Compass catering group.

Mr Cousins, whose first wife died of cancer in 2015, had taken his fiancée Emma Bowden, her 11-year-old daughter Heather and his two grown-up sons Will (25) and Ed (23) to Australia to spend Christmas and New Year together.

The same model aircraft had crashed into the ground in Canada in August 2015 after stalling during a steep turn while on a sightseeing trip.

Tourists Fiona Hewitt (52), her husband Richard (50) and children Harry (14) and Felicity (17), all from Milton Keynes, died in the accident near Les Bergeronnes, Quebec, as well as the pilot.

A report by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada published in September details 31 deaths in nine separate fatal incidents involving the DHC-2 Beaver, in which it stalled and crashed. It reported another three crashes in which there were no fatalities.

In its main recommendation, the Canadian investigators 'required' that all commercial DHC-2 aircraft in Canada be fitted with a stall warning system that emits an alarm when the plane is about to go into a stall.

It is not clear if the Australian seaplane had such a system fitted although its operator Sydney Seaplanes states on its website that all its DHC-2s are "equipped with the latest technology".

Eyewitnesses to the New Year's Eve crash in Australia said the plane had made a 'sharp turn' before nosediving into the water.

Todd Sellars, who lives on a houseboat, told how he dived into the water but could not open the door to free the passengers before it sank.

The DHC-2 seaplanes are known as 'flying antiques' and require rigorous safety checks.

Aaron Shaw, the managing director of Sydney Seaplanes, said the cause of the crash was a mystery and no emergency call was believed to have been made.

He had stressed that his company, operating since 2005, had a previously "unblemished safety record" and that "the safety of our passengers and staff is our absolute primary and highest priority".

Mr Shaw said weather conditions for the flight were "perfect", the plane's engines had been checked, and the pilot Gareth Morgan was experienced and under no pressure.

Mr Cousins and Ms Bowden had decided to celebrate Christmas and the new year in Australia. Days before they had sent out their wedding invitations while an engagement party was planned for March.

Australia was a good choice of destination because Mr Cousins, a passionate cricket fan who opened the batting for his village team, wanted to take in a couple of Ashes tests.

Irish Independent

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