‘Tragic accident’: British family killed in seaplane crash before year of new beginnings

Police have recovered three bodies from a sea plane crash, where all six people on board died at Apple Tree Boat Ramp, Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park on 31 December 2017. The Sea plane crashed at around 3:15 in Jerusalem Bay. Photo: Jessica HromasRichard Cousins was half a world away from the London cold, on the verge of retirement, a new marriage and a new year.

One of Britain’s most powerful chief executives, 58-year-old Mr Cousins had given notice that he would resign from catering giant Compass in March. He was in New South Wales holidaying with his fiancee Emma Bowden, 48.

The couple ate lunch on Sunday at Cottage Point Inn, north of Sydney, together with Ms Bowden’s daughter Heather, 11, and Mr Cousins’ sons Edward, 23, and William, 25.

The family then clambered back on board a 1964 seaplane, set to return from the excursion to the Rose Bay terminal in Sydney’s east.

But shortly after the plane took off about 3.15pm, something went wrong. The DHC-2 Beaver aircraft crashed into Jerusalem Bay, killing the Cousins, the Bowdens and their pilot, Gareth Morgan, 44.

Police, who worked quickly to recover the bodies by 7.30pm, are now investigating alongside the n Transport Safety Bureau and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority to determine the cause of the crash.

Sydney Seaplanes managing director Aaron Shaw extended his condolences to the victims’ families and said the company did not know how the “tragic accident” happened.

The weather on Sunday had been benign and the experienced pilot had completed the trip from Cottage Point to Rose Bay “hundreds of times”, Mr Shaw said.

Mr Morgan, a Canadian, worked for the company from 2011 to 2014, then took a job in the Maldives before returning in May 2017. At the time of his death, he had racked up more than 10,000 hours in a cockpit, 9000 of them in a seaplane.

“He was a lovely guy, a gentle guy, deeply liked by all the staff,” Mr Shaw said. “We’re devastated by his loss.”

Describing the company’s safety record over 12 years of business as “unblemished”, the managing director said planes underwent maintenance every 100 flying hours and engines were replaced after 1100 hours – 100 sooner than the industry standard.

The engine in the plane that crashed had only done 200 hours. Mr Shaw said he was unaware of any distress call from the plane and could not comment on reports it had made a markedly steep ascent from Cottage Point.

The plane remained under 13 metres of water on Monday and the Marine Area Command’s Detective Superintendent Mark Hutchings said it could be several days before the wreckage was recovered.

“[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,” he said.

Mr Cousins had built a reputation in Britain as an executive skilled at turning around companies in trouble and Harvard Business Review ranked him No.11 on its list of the 100 best-performing chief executive officers in the world.

He guided the supermarket chain Tesco out of an accounting scandal in 2014, and his September announcement that he would be stepping down from the Compass group sent the company’s stock down 2.5 per cent.

“We are deeply shocked and saddened by this terrible news,” chairman Paul Walsh said. “The thoughts of everyone at Compass are with Richard’s family and friends, and we extend our deepest sympathies to them.”

Will Cousins was head of press for Open Britain, a pro-European Union campaign group set up in the wake of Brexit. He frequently appeared on radio to represent the group’s views, and was described by his colleagues as “extraordinary”.

“All of us at Open Britain are devastated by the tragic loss of Will and his family,” said the organisation’s chairman Roland Rudd.

“Will was an extraordinary young man who was passionate about what he did; who took deep pride in his work; and came into the office every day with enthusiasm, energy and determination. He will be missed beyond words.”

Ed Cousins was a recent graduate of the University of St Andrews, where he had been president of the Mixed Martial Arts club, and was a fan of trekking and travelling.

His Facebook proudly displayed a photo of him on the second-last day of the Tour du Mont Blanc, a 170-kilometre trek through Switzerland, Italy and France.

The British High Commission said it was providing consular assistance for the families of the victims.

Sydney Seaplanes, which turned over $8 million last year, transports up to 300 passengers on busy days and has provided training for seaplane businesses in the Philippines, the US and China.

It has suspended all flights until further notice, offering refunds to customers who did not wish to reschedule.

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