UPDATED: Sydney seaplane crash claims global executive and family

by Geoffrey Thomas and Steve Creedy
December 31, 2017
Sydney Seaplanes Beaver
Sydney Seaplanes Beaver and Cessna Caravan . Credit: Phillip Capper

A top UK-based ompany executive and his extended family, including an 11-year-old girl,  have been identified as the victims of Sunday’s seaplane crash in the Hawkesbury River, north of Sydney.

The Australian tragedy came as the BBC reported 10 foreign tourists were among at least 12 people killed in a plane crash in Costa Rica. The dead included two Costa Rican pilots working for local company Nature Air and five people believed to belong to a single family.

The Cessna 208 caravan went down in the mountainous area of Punta Islita, about 230 km west of the Costa Rica capital of San Jose.

The Sydney Seaplanes single-engine aircraft crashed about 3:15 pm (local time) Sunday at Jerusalem Bay near the town of Cowan and was caught on video just before it plunged into the water.

News media reported the plane was found in 13m of  water in Cowan Creek. Three bodies were recovered in late afternoon but three were trapped in the wreckage and were not removed until later that evening.

The passengers included Compass Group chief executive Richard Cousins, 58, and his two sons, Edward, 23, and William, 25. Others  on the plane were 44-year-old experienced seaplane pilot Gareth Morgan as well as Mr Cousin’s fiance, 48-year-old Emma Bowden, and her 11-year-old daughter, Heather.

Compass Group is the world’s biggest catering firm and Cousins was widely credited with turning the company around. He had been named one of the world’s best performing CEOs by Harvard Business Review.

“We are deeply shocked and saddened by this terrible news,” Compass Group chairman Paul Walsh said in a statement released Monday. “The thoughts of everyone at Compass are with Richard’s family and friends, and we extend our deepest sympathies to them.

“It has been a great privilege to know Richard personally and to work with him for the last few years. Richard was known and respected for his great humanity and a no-nonsense style that transformed Compass into one of Britain’s leading companies.”

The ABC said the seaplane was returning a party of five people from the Cottage Point Inn Restaurant to Rose Bay in Sydney’s east when it crashed into the water.

A witness, Myles Baptiste,  told Nine News that the plane sank quickly.

“We saw a seaplane coming towards us,” he said. “It made a tight right-hand turn and as it actually turned around, the wings dipped and it nosedived straight into the water.”

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Sydney Seaplanes operates both Cessna Caravan Amphibian and DHC-2 Beaver aircraft and it has been confirmed it was a Beaver that crashed. The company’s two single-engine Beavers were built in the 1960s but had been extensively refurbished.

Sydney Seaplane managing director Aaron Shaw said he was deeply shocked by the accident.

“We wish to pass on our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of the passengers and pilot who were tragically killed,” Shaw said in a statement. “We do not yet know the cause of the accident.

“We are dedicating our full resources in assisting the NSW Police, the Australian Transport Safety Board, Civil Aviation Safety Authority and other relevant authorities to understand the cause of the accident.

“We have suspended all operations until further notice”

The company has been operating since 2005 and has ferried a number of high-profile passengers including Bill Gates and Pippa Middleton.

Shaw  said the company had undertaken thousands of flights with an unblemished safety record until now.

“The safety of our passengers and staff is our absolute primary and highest priority,” he said. ” Our aircraft are professionally maintained to manufacturer’s specifications and our seaplane pilots are some of the most experienced in the world.”

The Australian Transport Safety Authority is investigating the incident and has sent three investigators from Canberra.