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US newlyweds killed in Qld heli crash; join growing list

Accident follows a string of recent tourist air tragedies, in Australia and abroad

A fatal helicopter crash off the Whitsundays in north Queensland, in which two Americans were tragically killed was made even worse when it was discovered the couple were on their honeymoon.


The pair, Hawaiians John 'Pete' Hansel, 79, and wife Sue, 65, were travelling on a Whitsunday Air Services helicopter when it crashed on final approach to Hardy Reef Pontoon on Wednesday, the ABC reported.


According to the broadcaster, the woman’s 33-year-old daughter, her 34-year-old partner from Colorado and the 35-year-old male pilot avoided serious injury.


The couple (Image Ronald Cole / Facebook)


Friend Vern Ungerecht told West Hawaii Today they were a happy couple, who had been “so looking forward to this”.


“They were so excited about this big trip. It was a new experience for both of them. They were just all bubbly and happy about it,” he said. 


The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) said the helicopter was sitting 58 metres underwater in the Great Barrier Reef, and that worsening conditions could hamper a salvage operation.


But an ATSB spokesman said the chopper might not be required for its probe given the pilot and passengers survived, and there were a number of witnesses.


The pontoon (Image - file image)


According to the ABC, the crash came just a day after the ATSB gave its findings on another incident involving Whitsunday Air Services that took place in November 2017.


In that accident, a helicopter’s engine partially lost power and the aircraft ditched off Hamilton Island.


Yet another ATSB investigation is looking into an incident involving a Cessna that struck trees as it was landing on Hamilton Island in early 2016. The plane is registered to a company owned by Whitsunday Air Services.


“The entire Whitsunday Air Services team are devastated by this accident and our thoughts and condolences are with the passengers and their families,” said Brad Graves, CEO of the company, which has suspended all operations.   


The Whitsundays accident follows a spate of recent tragedies involving light tourist aircraft in Australia, including a seaplane crash in the Hawkesbury River in NSW on December 31 that killed six people, a small plane crash near Essendon Airport in February 2017 in which five people died, and a light plane crash on Middle Island in Queensland in January last year that claimed the life of a UK woman.


Earlier this month, a New York City helicopter crash killed five passengers including tourists, while a helicopter sightseeing ride claimed three British lives near the Grand Canyon in February.     


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Written by: Mark Harada
Published: 23 March 2018

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