Sea World helicopter crash: New Zealand survivors break their silence 


Two New Zealand couples who survived the horror Sea World helicopter crash have spoken publicly for the first time about their ordeal – recalling how a ‘fun joy ride’ quickly became a nightmare. 

Elmarie and Riaan Steenberg and Edward and Marle Swart, all from Auckland, were holidaying on the Gold Coast when they decided to take a helicopter tour on Monday afternoon. 

But the leisure activity turned into a tragedy when their aircraft collided with another chopper mid-air, killing four people and leaving three people critically injured. 

The pilot of the helicopter the two NZ couples were flying in managed to safely land  the damaged chopper on a sand bank, saving the lives of all five passengers.  

In a joint statement, the couple said they were ‘completely devastated’ by the horrific helicopter accident and their hearts went out to the victims’ loved ones. 

Riaan (far left) and Elmarie Steenberg (left) and Marle (right) and Edward Swart (far right) were caught up in the Sea World helicopter tragedy on Monday 

Police and Fire and Rescue personnel inspect a Sea World helicopter after it collided with another chopper on Monday

Police and Fire and Rescue personnel inspect a Sea World helicopter after it collided with another chopper on Monday

‘A fun 5-minute joy ride on vacation to Australia turned into a nightmare,’ they said.

‘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.

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

‘We will share more when we are ready; however as we are coming to grips with what has happened and the resultant impact on our lives we ask that our need for privacy be respected at this time.’

The couples expressed their gratitude to bystanders, police, and emergency services personnel who rushed to their aid and kept them calm and comfortable in the aftermath of the crash. 

Elmarie Steenberg (pictured with husband) Riaan remains in the Gold Coast recovering from injuries sustained in the crash

Elmarie Steenberg (pictured with husband) Riaan remains in the Gold Coast recovering from injuries sustained in the crash 

The couple were on a trip of a lifetime Down Under with friends and fellow Aucklanders Edward and Marle Swart (pictured)

The couple were on a trip of a lifetime Down Under with friends and fellow Aucklanders Edward and Marle Swart (pictured) 

They said the overwhelming response showed them ‘mateship in action’ and how ‘Australians come together to help in time of need’.

The tourists also extended their thanks to the hospital staff taking care of them ‘for their kindness and compassion during this traumatic experience’.

The couples dedicated part of the statement to their heroic pilot Michael James. 

‘To our pilot, who, through all the chaos, landed the helicopter safely, keeping us and other bystanders safe. You are our hero,’ the statement said. 

‘Thank you so very much.’

Pilot and new father Ash Jenkinson, 40, British newlyweds Ron and Diane Hughes, 65 and 57, and Sydney mother Vanessa Tadros, 36, were killed when their helicopter plunged to the ground shortly after takeoff. 

The three sole survivors on that chopper – Winnie de Silva, 33, her son Leon, 9, and Ms Tadros’ son Nicholas, 10 – were rushed to hospital with critical injuries.

How the tragedy unfolded in just 20 seconds

How the tragedy unfolded in just 20 seconds

The two helicopters involved in the collision can be seen on the sandbank - with one crashing into the sand and the other safely crash landing upright

The two helicopters involved in the collision can be seen on the sandbank – with one crashing into the sand and the other safely crash landing upright

Ms de Silva and her son, who suffered a fractured skull have both since stabilised, while Nicholas has been put on life support in a critical condition. 

Four of the survivors on the other aircraft suffered injuries from glass shrapnel as the lower helicopter’s rotor blades sliced through the cockpit. 

In a post on Wednesday, Mrs Steenberg confirmed to friends that she was caught up in the helicopter crash and provided an update on her condition. 

‘I am still in hospital in the Gold Coast recovering from my injuries,’ she wrote on Facebook.

‘All I can say [is] thank you to God for sparing all of us. 

‘Thank you for all of your messages. I will reply in due course.. love you all’. 

The new details come after a video emerged of the moments just before the helicopters collided. 

Taken from inside the helicopter that landed safety, the footage shows one of the passengers tapping Mr James on the shoulder to warn about the impending danger. 

The Air Transport Safety Bureau has now launched its investigation into the crash and vowed to look at all possible causes of the accident.

Gold Coast pilot Ash Jenkinson is being remembered as hero following the tragedy, for his work during the flood crisis delivering aid and rescuing those trapped

Gold Coast pilot Ash Jenkinson is being remembered as hero following the tragedy, for his work during the flood crisis delivering aid and rescuing those trapped

Newlywed British couple Ron Hughes, 65, and wife Diane , 57, were killed in the tragic crash

Newlywed British couple Ron Hughes, 65, and wife Diane , 57, were killed in the tragic crash

‘We now have a painstaking job of trying to recreate exactly what’s occurred in the lead up to this,’ ATSB chief commissioner Angus Mitchell said.

‘We know the takeoff and the landing phases of any aircraft operations are critical phases of flight, where the the cognitive workload of pilots are at their greatest.

They Steenbergs and Swarts said they were assisting the Australian Transport Safety Bureau and Queensland police with their inquiries.

Meanwhile, one of the rescuers who rushed to help the victims still can’t get the harrowing scenes and noises he was confronted with out of his head.

Ron Drevlak and his wife were walking their dog when the witnesses the helicopters collide. 

With no thoughts about risking his own safety, Mr Drevlak was one of the first rescuers on scene and arrived before the pilot of the other chopper safely landed on the sandbar. 

‘Instinct kicked in to just to run and run and help,’ Mr Drevlak told the Today show on Thursday.

‘In the back of my mind, I expected bad things, but it just didn’t occur to me at the time because I can still quite clearly remember that when I got to the first chopper, the second one wasn’t even on the ground that the noise and everything was still like buzzing all around us.’

Three days on, he’s still traumatised by the confronting scenes. 

Vanessa Tadros (left) was killed instantly in the helicopter crash, but her son Nicholas (right) survived and is in hospital in a critical condition

Vanessa Tadros (left) was killed instantly in the helicopter crash, but her son Nicholas (right) survived and is in hospital in a critical condition 

Winne and Leon de Silva (pictured) were rushed to hospital with critical injuries. They have both since stabilised

Winne and Leon de Silva (pictured) were rushed to hospital with critical injuries. They have both since stabilised 

‘It’s still very raw in my mind, particularly from the point where the chopper came apart and hit the ground,’ Mr Drevlak said.

‘The noise, that’s something that just keeps playing over and over in my head every time I lay down to sleep at night.

‘It’s not a very pleasant thing to see.’

Owner of Sea World Helicopters John Orr-Campbell has also spoken for the first time since the tragedy to remember Mr Jenkinson as a ‘first-class pilot and a first-class man’. 

‘I knew Ash personally for nine years. He was a fine man and a standout pilot with 6,210 hours of flying to his name,’ Mr Orr-Campbell wrote online. 

‘To lose a man and a pilot of Ash’s calibre is shocking in every sense of the word. I, along with all the staff at Sea World Helicopters are gutted to the core. My heart aches as I think of Ash’s fiancée Kosha and his one-year-old son Kayden.

‘I would also like to commend the other pilot, Michael James, who heroically got the second aircraft to the ground safely. We wish him well in his recovery.’

Mr Orr-Campbell revealed Mr Jenkinson had obtained his Commercial Pilots License in June, 2008 and flew choppers in Western Australia until 2011. 

‘During this time Ash showed his love and commitment to community – he was involved in multiple search and rescue flights in the area,’ he said. 

‘This community mindedness saw him dedicate over 700 hours and many days away from family and friends assisting in firefighting operations across Australia.’

In 2019, Mr Jenkinson became Chief Pilot of Sea World Helicopters and oversaw all aspects of safety and flight operations. 

‘We have lost a first-class pilot, a first-class man and a wonderful father, partner and friend,’ Mr Orr-Campbell wrote. 

‘RIP Ash, you will forever be in our hearts.’

SEA WORLD HELICOPTERS’ 40 YEARS OF ‘IMPECCABLE SAFETY’

Sea World Helicopters is an independent offshoot of the theme park close to Gold Coast’s world famous Surfers Paradise, and has operated for more than 40 years.

In November 2019 it opened Australia’s largest privately-owned multi-million dollar helicopter terminal overlooking Broadwater.

It bragged of its ‘impeccable’ safety record which it attributed to its ‘experienced pilots and meticulous maintenance regime’.

Prior to Covid hitting the tourist industry, the terminal flew up to 600 passengers a day, offering five minute scenic flights or 30 minute trips to hinterland waterfalls and coastal beaches.

In the wake of the pandemic, the firm diversified with trips to local wineries 

Chief pilot Ash Jenkinson, 40, who was killed in the tragedy, said the flights offered a once in a lifetime experience to holidaymakers.

‘Day trips flying around to several wineries, who doesn’t want to do that?’ he said in 2021. 

‘The Gold Coast is so well known for its golden sands and beach lifestyle, you forget that only a five-minute flight inland you have all these beautiful Hinterland rainforests and massive flyable waterfalls.

‘It’s something our guests will remember for a lifetime and one of my favourite locations in Australia.’

He added: ‘If you haven’t seen the Gold Coast from the air, you’re missing out.

 ‘The simple flight up and down the coastline, flying past the tall buildings and above the sea, is something you can’t grasp from the ground.’

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