A pilot is being remembered as a ‘legend’ and ‘hero’ after he was killed alongside three passengers in a horrific collision between two Sea World tour helicopters on the Gold Coast in front of hundreds of holidaymakers.
Ash Jenkinson, 40, was the chief pilot for Sea World Helicopters which runs the tours from the popular theme park and was behind the controls of one aircraft which nosedived into a sandbar on the Broadwater about 2pm Monday afternoon.
Three more passengers are fighting for their lives, and multiple others have been left injured after the mid-air collision – though the second aircraft managed to regain control and land upright with those on board all surviving.
Mr Jenkinson leaves behind a wife, young son and members of his close family as well as hundreds of friends who knew the popular Gold Coast local as ‘Jenko’.
Friend Ritchie Gregg recounted when Mr Jenkinson lent his prized helicopter to aid the victims of the 2022 NSW and Queensland floods.
‘This will always be the highlight of my life and just one of your legacies when we helped flood people. Cheers,’ Mr Gregg wrote to Facebook.
‘My heartfelt condolences to your family. Blue skies my friend.’ another friend Chris Lea wrote.
Video from the Sea World helipad shows a holidaymaker and his young son watching the helicopter lift and then within seconds cross into the path of the second aircraft – with the child asking: ‘Is he going to crash?’.
Witnesses rushed to the crash scene – just metres from the heavily crowded theme park and marina – and frantically called emergency services before pulling out those inside the wreckage.
Ash Jenkinson (pictured) was behind the controls of the helicopter which nosedived into the sandbar
Three people are feared dead after two helicopters collided in mid-air near the Sea World on the Gold Coast theme park as horrified holidaymakers watched on
Photos showed at least one of the two choppers was a Sea World helicopter tour aircraft
Paramedics and police on the scene on Monday afternoon (pictured)
Ash Jenkinson (pictured) was the chief pilot for Sea World Helicopters and has been remembered as a ‘legend’ by his friends
Witnesses told Daily Mail Australia one of the helicopters was coming in to land when it clipped the rotor of the other aircraft that was taking off.
Emma Burch, another witness, had the same account of how the accident unfolded.
‘From what we saw one was taking off, the other landing. They clipped each other,’ she said.
‘Massive bang heard right through the Broadwater tourist park then the swooshing as the one that lost control hit the water and broke apart.
‘It’s just awful. Everyone is in shock.’
One of the helicopters crashed into the sandbar, leaving wreckage across the shore with the main rotor embedded in the sand some distance from the rest of the wreck.
Four onboard died, including the pilot, while another three, a woman and two young boys, are in critical condition.
The other helicopter managed to land on the sandbar nearby, with six people on board, some of whom suffered non-life threatening injuries.
The two helicopters involved in the collision can be seen on the sandbank – with crashing into the sand and the other landing upright
Marine Rescue raced to the sandbar, seen in front of one helicopter with a Sea World logo
A young child was transported from the crash site by boat and then transferred to the RACQ Lifeflight helicopter and rushed to hospital in a serious condition
Lifeguards and police officers on board one of several vessels that raced to the scene
Queensland Ambulance said there were 13 patients in total, six in one helicopter and seven in the other.
Volunteer Marine Rescue Southport Duty captain Matt Fitzpatrick said three units were dispatched to the scene.
‘There are multiple helicopters involved and we do not know the state of those who were aboard,’ he said.
Photos showed at least one of the two choppers – the one that landed without crashing – was a Sea World helicopter tour aircraft.
The company issued a statement hours after the crash.
‘Sea World Helicopters (SWH) has expressed its shock and deepest sympathy for those involved in the Sea World helicopter accident on the Gold Coast, Broadwater at Southport this afternoon,’ a spokesperson for Sea World Helicopters said.
‘We and the entire flying community are devastated by what has happened and our sincere condolences go to all those involved and especially the loved ones and family of the deceased.
‘We are cooperating with all the authorities including the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) and the Queensland Police. As it is now a police investigation we cannot provide any further information at this stage.’
Paramedics transported one patient to a waiting helicopter to be airlifted to hospital
The front of the Sea World helicopter that remained still upright sustained heavy damage
It is understood the helicopter taking off clipped another helicopter above and then nosedived into the sand
Witnesses expressed their shock at the mid-air collision.
‘I heard a bang and saw smoke billowing from one of the choppers. It was smoking and wobbling to the ground,’ one witness told Daily Mail Australia.
‘One person was asking whether it was part of the Sea World show.’
A distraught woman and child were seen at the helipad while part of the theme park was shut down so patrons couldn’t look out at the crash site.
Others said watching the accident unfold was ‘beyond horrible’.
‘My daughter saw them. People on both. Landed on the sand not in SeaWorld thank goodness. Just praying for all,’ one said.
‘We heard a loud noise and saw bits of debris flying,’ another wrote online.
Gold Coast resident Tor Kumpel was swimming in the broadwater with his wife when he witnessed the collision just after one helicopter took off.
‘It was only one helicopter that crashed. The one that was coming up. It was horrific to see,’ he told The Courier Mail.
‘The (pilot) who was in the other one that landed. They deserve a medal. It took a bit to steady but they did it.’
Blue Mountains resident Amii McDermot, 42, was in line at Sea World’s Vortex ride when she saw the crash unfold.
‘There was debris everywhere, the tail fell off one of them and the helicopter nosedived into the ground at full-speed.’
She said her two younger children don’t realise what they saw but her older two are quite shaken up.
Investigators are racing to collect evidence before high tide covers the sandbar
Officers scour the sand for pieces of debris that could assist the investigation into the cause
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau said it has already commenced an investigation into the collision.
‘Transport safety investigators with experience in helicopter operations, maintenance and survivability engineering are deploying from the ATSB’s Brisbane and Canberra offices and are expected to begin arriving at the accident site from Monday afternoon,’ ATSB Chief Commissioner Angus Mitchell said.
‘During the evidence gathering phase of the investigation, ATSB investigators will examine the wreckage and map the accident site.’
‘Investigators will also recover any relevant components for further examination at the ATSB’s technical facilities in Canberra, gather any available recorded data for analysis, and interview witnesses and other involved parties.
The ATSB is asking for witnesses of the crash to contact them immediately.
Emergency services rushed to the wreckage hoping to find survivors, but grave fears are held for all those on board