A family of five on holiday from the UK and an experienced pilot have been named as the victims of a seaplane crash at the Hawkesbury River on New Year’s Eve.
Police have named the victims as Gareth Morgan, a 44-year-old experienced seaplane pilot; Emma Bowden, aged 48 and her daughter Heather Bowden, aged 11; Ms Bowden’s fiance Richard Cousins, 58, and his sons Edward and William Cousins, aged 23 and 25 respectively.
Mr Cousins was the chief executive of one of the world’s largest catering companies, the Compass Group. In 2017, he was ranked number 11 of the 100 best performing chief executive officers in the world by Harvard Business Review. He was due to retire this year.
In a statement, the company’s chairman Paul Walsh said it had been a privilege to work with him.
“We are deeply shocked and saddened by this terrible news. The thoughts of everyone at Compass are with Richard’s family and friends, and we extend our deepest sympathies to them.”
Mr Cousins and his family were all on board a Sydney Seaplanes aircraft travelling from Cottage Point Inn back to Rose Bay, when the aircraft crashed into the river at Jerusalem Bay about 3pm on Sunday.
By 7.30pm, police divers had recovered all six bodies but the DHC-2 Beaver Seaplane remained in 13 metres of water overnight under police guard.
Detective Superintendent Mark Hutchings from the Marine Area Command said the hearts of all the first responders and emergency services went out to the families of the victims.
“[These are] people who have come over on holidays to visit , they were in one of the most beautiful parts of the world and for this to happen to them in a place like that is nothing more than just tragic,” he said.
The Detective Superintendent said the pilot, Mr Morgan, was an n citizen who had family overseas.
Sydney Seaplanes managing director Aaron Shaw said the company was “devastated” by the deaths.
“He was a lovely guy, a gentle guy, deeply liked by all the staff,” he said of Mr Morgan.
The pilot had worked for the company between 2011 and 2014, before working in the Maldives and then returning in May 2017, racking up more than 10,000 hours in the cockpit.
Mr Shaw said Mr Morgan had done the trip to Cottage Point hundreds of times before and weather conditions had been “benign”.
Sydney Seaplanes has suspended all flights as it co-operates with authorities, including the n Transport Safety Bureau and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, to determine the cause of what Mr Shaw called “a tragic accident”.
Detective Superintendent Hutchings said the crash had affected all the responders who attended the scene.
“When you get a situation when this amount of people perish it’s tragic and it’s difficult,” Detective Superintendent Hutchings said.
“I would like now to take this opportunity of thanking all those emergency services who did attend the scene yesterday. It was a dramatic scene, and I’d like to extend my appreciation for the professional manner in which that took place.”
He said police divers were able to get to the scene “very quickly”, allowing them to recover all six bodies quickly and speeding up the investigation.
While the recovery of the victims was quick, Detective Superintendent Hutchings said it could be some days before the wreckage of the plane was recovered and it was unknown at this stage what state the aircraft was in.
Three investigators from the n Transport Safety Bureau were on the scene on Monday, and would conduct investigations alongside police from various command centres. Detective Superintendent Hutchings said there was no obvious cause for the crash at this stage.
“As it stands at the moment, the circumstances of how the plane came to crash is currently under investigation,” he said.
“[We] urge any of the recreational boats that attended the scene shortly after the plane went down to contact either Crime Stoppers or the Marine Area Command or the ATSB.”
The British High Commission said it was providing consular assistance for the families of the victims.
In a statement, Sydney Seaplanes said it was shocked by the incident and had suspended all operations until further notice.
“We wish to pass on our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of the passengers and pilot who were tragically killed,” the company said.
The company, which has been operating since 2005, said it has taken thousands of flights and has had an “unblemished” safety record.