Hero Sea World pilot who landed damaged helicopter questioned by police in hospital


The Sea World pilot hailed a ‘hero’ for miraculously landing his damaged helicopter and saving the lives of his five passengers in the horror Gold Coast crash has been released from hospital following an interview with police.  

Michael James, 52, saved the lives of his passengers – couples Riaan and Elmarie Steenberg, and Marle and Edward Swart, and a tourist from WA – after stabilising his aircraft following the collision of two Eurocopter EC130s above the Gold Coast theme park at about 2pm on Monday.

Four people died when the other helicopter plunged into a sandbank after its main rotor detached: Vanessa Tadros, 36, British newlyweds Ron Hughes, 65, and wife Diane, 57, and chief pilot Ash Jenkinson, 40.

Three other passengers were rushed to hospital in serious conditions: Vanessa’s son Nicholas Tadros, 10, and Leon de Silva, 9, who both had to be placed on life support, and Leon’s mother Winnie, 33, who suffered multiple broken bones.

Mr James was released from hospital on Thursday afternoon where he was interviewed by police over the mid-air collision. 

Local authorities and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau in the early stages of their investigation of the incident have not speculated on the cause of the crash. 

Sea World pilot Michael James hailed a hero for landing his chopper has been released from hospital (pictured right)

Ms Steenberg and Ms Swart were also released from hospital on Thursday where they were treated for injuries from broken glass that pelted them after impact.

Sadly, Nicholas remains on life support at Gold Coast University Hospital.

His father Simon – who lost his wife Vanessa in the crash – told the Courier Mail that his son would be on a ventilator for some time. 

‘I have amazing support by my side, though you can only imagine the nightmare we are living. I’m not in a good headspace at all,’ he said. 

The Steenbergs and Swarts had been travelling as a foursome on a holiday from New Zealand when they visited Sea World.

On Thursday they issued a statement thanking Mr James for saving their lives. 

‘To our pilot, who, through all the chaos, landed the helicopter safely, keeping us and other bystanders safe. You are our hero. Thank you so very much,’ they said.

Kiwi couples Riaan and Elmarie Steenberg and Marle and Edward Swart (pictured) paid tribute to hero pilot Michael James for saving their lives in a statement on Thursday

Kiwi couples Riaan and Elmarie Steenberg and Marle and Edward Swart (pictured) paid tribute to hero pilot Michael James for saving their lives in a statement on Thursday

‘Our deepest sympathies and sincere condolences to the injured and the deceased and their families.

‘We are grateful and blessed to have been spared but very sad for the people who lost loved ones and the little ones and mum fighting for their lives in hospital.

‘Our hearts are so heavy for them.’

One of the two young boys Leon de Silva woke up from his induced coma on Thursday and was able to give his mother a thumbs-up during a video chat in what has been described as a miracle.

Leon has spent the last three days in an induced coma in Queensland's Children's Hospital

Leon has spent the last three days in an induced coma in Queensland’s Children’s Hospital

Leon’s stepfather Neil was seen on Thursday speaking on a phone call and appearing very happy outside Gold Coast University Hospital where his wife is recovering.

He has confirmed his stepson is now in a stable condition.

‘It’s a bloody miracle,’ a Queensland Health spokesperson told Daily Mail Australia.

‘The main issue is the extensive injuries that he (Leon) has. He’s lying in bed at the moment. He is still laying with his eyes closed and not able to talk or communicate at this stage,’ Mr de Silva told Sunrise earlier on Thursday.

‘But the nurses told Julie yesterday that he could hear us talk so she videoed Winnie.

Neil de Silva was pictured speaking on the phone on the Gold Coast as his stepson Leon was taken off life support and listed as in a stable condition in Brisbane

Neil de Silva was pictured speaking on the phone on the Gold Coast as his stepson Leon was taken off life support and listed as in a stable condition in Brisbane

Leon (left), pictured with his mum Winnie de Silva (right),woke up from his coma on Thursday

Leon (left), pictured with his mum Winnie de Silva (right),woke up from his coma on Thursday

‘Winnie was able to talk directly to Leon and as she was saying ‘Mum’s here and everything’s going to be alright’… he actually managed to give her a thumbs up, so that was fantastic news yesterday.

‘Both are fighting on and we’re going to have a long battle ahead of us.’

Aviation experts have now pored over the haunting footage and revealed key moments in the video clip – including the final seconds of chief pilot Ash Jenkinson and his passengers.

One now believes the accident may have been caused by a tragic twist of fate where both helicopters were in each other’s blind spots.

The footage appears to show the rising helicopter may have been hidden from the surviving pilot's line of sight by the cockpit fuselage

The footage appears to show the rising helicopter may have been hidden from the surviving pilot’s line of sight by the cockpit fuselage

The footage appears to show the rising helicopter may have been hidden from the surviving pilot’s line of sight by the cockpit fuselage.

And the descending chopper, above and to the right, may have been obscured by the angle it was above Mr Jenkinson who was on the far side of his aircraft with two passengers to his right.

Passengers’ desperate warnings to the pilot may also have been drowned out by engine noise and their microphones possibly muted by incoming radio messages. 

‘It’s an extraordinary quirk of fate,’ industry veteran Geoffrey Thomas of AirlineRatings told Daily Mail Australia.

As the clip opens, it pans across the cockpit and the horizon outside, revealing Mr Jenkinson’s Eurocopter 130 helicopter already in the air and frighteningly close by.

It is briefly seen rising up towards Mr James’s identical chopper but the experienced pilot appears oblivious to the danger, and looks off to the right.

It appears the other aircraft may have been hidden by the cockpit pillar to his left.

The video appears to show the other aircraft may have been hidden by the cockpit pillar to his left (pictured)

The video appears to show the other aircraft may have been hidden by the cockpit pillar to his left (pictured)

‘The other helicopter that’s taken off is in a blind spot,’ said Mr Thomas.

‘As he’s turning, you can actually see the other helicopter. The passenger in the back can see the helicopter.

‘But if you look at the pilot, part of the cockpit structure is masking that helicopter – and as he turns, it continues to mask the other aircraft.

‘It’s genuinely in his blind spot and stays there – so he was totally unsighted.’

Despite the impending danger both the pilot and one of the passengers appear to be looking off to the right moments before impact. 

Keith Tonkin, managing director of Aviation Projects, believes Mr James may have been focused on where he was going to land and events off to the right as the other chopper closed in on him.

‘He might have been concentrating on something like where he was and where he was flying towards,’ said the aviation consultant. ‘I don’t know if he’s been distracted.

‘He might have had something he thought was important at that time to be concentrating on, that he was directing his attention towards.’

Two passengers have a different angle on the outside view and spot the danger, seemingly pointing out the aircraft until one desperately taps the shoulder of the pilot to alert him.

The tourist then braces for impact as the pilot turns to face him, just as the cockpit explodes in a shower of shattered glass and metal when the other chopper collides.

The video has raised speculation about why the passengers did not appear to say anything over the radio headset intercom systems they were wearing.

Two passengers have a different angle on the outside view and spot the danger, seemingly pointing out the aircraft until one desperately taps the shoulder of the pilot to alert him

Two passengers have a different angle on the outside view and spot the danger, seemingly pointing out the aircraft until one desperately taps the shoulder of the pilot to alert him

But Mr Thomas said it was possible their microphones could have been muted by incoming radio messages overriding the in-aircraft chatter.

‘It could be the mic was muted because there was some other communication which was going on and coming in,’ said Mr Thomas. 

‘It may have been a helicopter saying ‘I’m lifting up’, or just lifted off, or something like that. Who knows what that other communication might have been? 

‘But certainly, the passengers could be hearing it. He could have spoken to him –  but clearly it went from a tap on the shoulder to bracing for impact.’

Passengers' desperate warnings to the pilot may also have been drowned out by engine noise and their microphones possibly muted by incoming radio messages

Passengers’ desperate warnings to the pilot may also have been drowned out by engine noise and their microphones possibly muted by incoming radio messages

The devastating impact was revealed in an extended version of the video which showed the cabin ripped open amid fragments of glass and metal everywhere.

Blue sky can be seen through the wrecked remains of the helicopter’s front fuselage and the noise of the rotor blades can clearly be heard as the horizon spins outside.

Off camera, the other helicopter’s rotor blades and gearbox had been ripped out by the collision which is believed to have then severed its rear tail rotor.

The loss of control then sent it tumbling upside down towards the sandbar below where it crashed into the ground, killing four inside.

Miraculously though, Mr James managed to regain control of his aircraft despite the shock and terror of the situation and severe damage to the plane’s flight controls.

In astonishing scenes, he calmly brought the crippled chopper down in a safe crash landing close to the mangled wreckage of the other helicopter. 

One aviation expert believes the accident may have been caused by a tragic twist of fate where both helicopters were in each other's blind spot

One aviation expert believes the accident may have been caused by a tragic twist of fate where both helicopters were in each other’s blind spot 

Mr Tonkin hailed the skill and mental strength of the pilot to respond under the circumstances.

‘The pilot did an amazing job,’ he said. ‘There’s no question about that. The whole front of the helicopter was smashed off. 

‘It would have been so disorientating. In your mind, you’re doing something and you’re predicting your flight path, and then to have that happen, all of a sudden…

‘To not be in control of the aircraft and to have all that damage and devastation around you will be very disorienting. It wouldn’t be expected. 

‘Whether the pilot then had full instrumentation and the information that he would normally have to be able to land a helicopter is questionable as well. 

‘The fact that he’s landed it safely is amazing.’

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk