Sea World pilot Michael James already had a five-star reputation before he kept his cool head to make an emergency landing after the cockpit of his chopper imploded into him leaving him bloodied and wounded in Monday’s helicopter crash.
The 52-year-old had been working for the theme park for about a year and earning praiseworthy reviews before tragedy struck in the form of Sea World pilot Ash Jenkinson’s ascending helicopter colliding with his when he was about to land.
Despite a pending crash investigation, Chief Commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) Angus Mitchell has already cited the cause of Monday’s crash as ‘the main rotor blade of the helicopter taking off colliding with the front cockpit of the descending helicopter’.
This led to ‘the main rotor and the gearbox separating from (Mr Jenkinson’s) helicopter which has meant … that it then had no lift and has fallen tragically to the ground’.
Sea World pilot Michael James (above) had already earned 5-star reviews before Monday’s miraculous landing
He coolly landed his aircraft upright despite being cut with shrapnel when the cockpit imploded in on him in the crash
Michael James takes a family on a recent joy flight over the Gold Coast, with an excited boy in the front seat, on one of several flights which have earned him 5-star reviews for his flying skills and ability as a tour guide
The ill-fated helicopter flown by ‘Top Gun’ pilot Ash Jenkinson crashed into the Broadwater sand bank (above) after shearing off a rotor and gearbox when it collided with a descending craft flown by Michael James
Along with Mr Jenkinson, 40, the father of a young son, passengers Vanessa Tadros, 36, and British tourists Ron and Diane Hughes, aged 65 and 57, perished in the crash.
Mr James managed to land on the bar despite major damage to his cockpit, with all five passengers onboard his helicopter surviving the accident.
Commissioner Mitchell said described Mr James’ safe landing as ‘remarkable’, while Gold Coast Heli-Tours director Scott Menzies marvelled at ‘a bloody fantastic job … nearly impossible … to keep himself under control (with) a lot of shrapnel wounds, and failures to deal with’.
The passengers on board his chopper included a 27-year-old West Australian woman and two New Zealand couples travelling together – a 44-year-old man and a 43-year-old woman, and a man and woman aged 48 and 45.
Images of Mr James being helped onto a rescue vessel off the Broadwater sand bar show him bleeding from the head and arms with his right hand and knee hastily bandaged in the aftermath before he was taken to hospital for surgery.
The experienced pilot is believed to gave been living in temporary accommodation four nights a week on the Gold Coast and commuting to his Clontarf home north of Brisbane.
Since joining Sea World’s pilot crew last year, Mr James has attracted the accolades of passengers for his flying skills and knowledge as a tour guide in five-star reviews of his joyflights.
Michael James welcomes patient Chris on his birthday adventure flight in which the wheelchair-bound 35-year-old fulfilled a dream to replicate an Arnold Schwarzenegger ‘get to da choppa’ moment
Helicopter pilot Michael James, praised for calmly landing after horror Sea World crash, is pictured above with patient Chris on a ‘dream come true’ trip for the action movie fan facilitated by Ambulance Wish Queensland and Sea World Helicopters
Michael James has earned 5-star reviews since he started working for Sea World as a helicopter pilot, with passengers describing him as ‘fantastic, awesome and very, very knowledgeable’
An October review said ‘Michael was our pilot and he was awesome’, while two others in November called him ‘very friendly and informative’ and thanked him for his ‘outstanding job and professionalism’.
One rave review from mid-2021 of an ‘amazing experience’ said ‘the pilot Michael we had today was a fantastic pilot and host. Very, very knowledgeable and just a beautiful flight over the Gold Coast’.
Just two months ago, Michael James flew patient Chris from Robina Palliative Care on the Gold Coast on a trip organised by Ambulance Wish Queensland (AWQLD) in conjunction with Sea World Helicopters.
The trip, for action and movie adventure fan Chris’s 35th birthday, took the wheelchair-bound man onto Michael’s helicopter and and off to see ‘some stunning views of the Gold Coast’.
In a post on their Instagram page, AWQLD said it was a ‘dream come true’ for Chris, an ‘especially those moments of adrenaline-fuelled action where the hero does the impossible’ such as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in the movie, Predator.
Gold Coast man Chris strapped in for the flight with pilot Michael James over the Gold Coast, an adventure organised by James employers’ Sea World helicopters and Ambulance Wish Queensland
Another five-star review, posted in December, for Michael James who has been credited for saving lives by being able to land upright after Monday’s crash
‘So, on Chris’s 35th birthday Ambulance Wish Queensland, turned it into reality (and) made the impossible possible, enabling Chris, as Arnie would say to “Get to da Chopper!” to take to the air on a helicopter adventure, like so many heroes in the action movies he loves.
‘We are so pleased we could be a part of Chris’s Wish, @awqld.’
Michael James is expected to be released from hospital soon and may even be recommended for a bravery award after his quick thinking and composure under pressure almost certainly prevented many more deaths.
Commissioner Angus Mitchell said on the day after the crash that it was a miracle more people weren’t killed due to Mr James’ ‘presence of mind to be able to land that helicopter, particularly considering the damage that we know has occurred on that front left-hand seat of the helicopter.
‘We are very fortunate that we’re not standing here with far more deaths.’
It is understood Mr Jenkinson’s helicopter had spent all of 20 seconds in the air after take-off before crashing into the left side of Mr James’ cockpit.
Mr James managed to keep his Sea World helicopter (right) upright during a crash on Monday after colliding with co-worker Ash Jenkinson, whose craft (left) tragically crashed, killing four of the seven passengers on board
‘Top Gun’ Ash Jenkinson (above with his partner Dosha and son Kaiden) tragically lost his life after the helicopter he was piloting collided with another Sea World craft on Monday afternoon
Scott Menzies, who was in the air nearby at the time of the crash, said it was remarkable Mr James was able to land his craft safely in the moments after the collision, saving his life and those of his five passengers, including one who was completely unharmed.
His survivors included a Western Australia woman, 27, and two New Zealand couples travelling together – a 44-year-old man and 43-year-old woman, and a 48-year-old man and 45-year-old woman.
‘I think (James) did a great job to keep himself under control knowing that he probably would have had a lot of shrapnel wounds and bits and pieces and a lot of failures to deal with,’ Mr Menzies told Daily Mail Australia.
‘So I think he did a bloody fantastic job under the circumstances to try and get the thing back on the ground.
British couple Ron and Diane Hughes (left) and Australian mother Vanessa Tadros (right) were killed in the horror helicopter collision on Monday
Pilot and witness Scott Menzies said it was a wonder Mr James was able to keep his helicopter upright during the crash, saving the lives of his passengers (pictured, the wreckage of one of the helicopters)
‘I mean, really, you know, we are looking at a double …you know, we’re looking at 13 people dead on that one.
‘I mean, really and truly, there’s not too many mid-air collisions where one aircraft can actually land. If you think about it. It’s nearly impossible that it happened… especially helicopters.
‘He did a good job just to keep it all together and calm down. A very good job under the circumstances.’
How the crash unfolded: A step-by-step run through of how the crash that killed four is understood to have happened
Queensland Police said they were investigating the circumstances surrounding Monday’s helicopter crash
Queensland Police are investigating the crash with divers collecting evidence from the scene on Monday (above)
Crash investigators are still in the early stages of determining what caused the two helicopters to collide mid-air just after 2pm on Monday.
Vanessa Tadros’s 10-year-old son, Nicholas survived the crash but was left in a critical condition.
He has undergone several surgeries since and is believed to not know his mother tragically died.
Witnessing the crash, Mr Menzies described what he saw as a ‘terrible accident’ and one which appeared to be a case of both pilots misjudging exactly where the other was at the time.
Sea World offered its condolences to the loved ones of the crash victims but would not comment further due to an active police investigation (pictured, a Queensland Police diver collecting evidence from the scene of the crash)
Four people were killed in a horror helicopter crash on Monday after two Sea World aircraft collided on the Gold Coast (pictured, the wreckage of the crash)
Mr James’ actions were praised for saving the lives of his five passengers (pictured, the wreckage of the helicopter Mr James was flying)
‘It’s a hard one because it was done in clear sky and, you know, everyone could see the two helicopters closing in on each other,’ said Menzies.
‘I mean, it’s pretty hard not to not to see the other helicopter or one of those helicopters should have been able to see the other one.
‘It was just amazing that they both didn’t see each other till too late.’
Aviation expert Geoffrey Thomas told Daily Mail Australia that although the two pilots would have been in radio communication before and during the doomed 20-second flight, something had clearly interrupted their vision.
He said either or both may have been ‘distracted by something or a passenger pointing to something on the left.
‘The pilot coming down could have been simultaneously distracted by something on the right.
‘Both pilots were very experienced, well respected and the helicopters were the best there were’.
Mr Thomas said with a combination of clear skies, low wind and experienced pilots who knew the area well, the two aircrafts should have seen each other approaching.
Mr James, along with passengers Winnie De Silva and her nine-year-old son Leon, were hospitalised following the crash (pictured, the crash scene)
Victorian mother Winnie De Silva, 33, and her nine-year-old son Leon (both left) were also hospitalised following the crash (right, Mrs De Silva in Gold Coast University Hospital)
Vanessa Tadros (left) was killed instantly in the helicopter crash, but her son Nicholas (right) survived and is in hospital in a critical condition
‘They could have also been distracted by something happening inside the helicopter such as warning lights, so their eyes would have been looking down.’
Another possibility is that one or both pilots had a blind spot or were hindered by the sun and didn’t see each other.
It’s understood James remains at Gold Coast University Hospital in a stable condition.
Victorian mother Winnie De Silva, 33, and her son, Leon, were also hospitalised following the crash, with the nine-year-old flown to the Queensland Children’s Hospital in Brisbane where he remains in a critical condition with a skull fracture.