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22 April 2024

Plane wreck lifted from Sydney river after crash killing British CEO

NSW police and salvage personnel work to recover the wreckage of the wing of the seaplane that crashed into Jerusalem Bay, north of Sydney. (Reuters)

By Reuters

Australian air crash investigators and police on Thursday hoisted the wreckage of a seaplane from the Sydney river where it sank after crashing on New Year's Eve, killing six people including the chief executive of British catering company Compass Group Plc.

Richard Cousins, 58, and four members of his family were among the six fatalities when the plane hit the water shortly after takeoff on Sunday, according to police.

They included his two sons Edward Cousins, 23, and William Cousins, 25, and his fiancee Emma Bowden, 48, and her 11-year-old daughter, Heather.

The family were on a short tourist flight, operated by Sydney Seaplanes, from a waterfront restaurant on the Hawkesbury River, north of Sydney, to Rose Bay in the city's east.

Police divers wrapped slings around the fuselage and a barge fitted with a small crane slowly lifted the wreck, upside down and without wings, from about 13 metres of water near Cowan, 40 km (25 miles) north of Sydney.

The propeller, cockpit and front section of fuselage was crumpled, and the seaplane's landing floats were raised separately. The pieces were loaded on to the barge deck and covered with a tarpaulin, television pictures showed.

The wreckage will be examined, and investigators also hope to find personal phones or other electronic devices that may have been on board when the plane crashed, which could help to piece together what happened.

The plane's pilot, Gareth Morgan, 44, was also killed in the crash.

Air crash investigation records, first reported by the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper on Thursday and reviewed by Reuters, show an airplane with the same serial number crashed 21 years earlier, when it was being used as a crop duster.

The 1996 Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) accident report found that the aircraft, a DHC-2 de Havilland Canada, likely stalled and that conditions were gusty when it crashed, killing the pilot.

"It was repaired after the accident and all appropriate approvals and checks were done.  It was then re-registered and went back into service," a spokesman for Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority said in an email.

The ATSB said it would examine the plane's history during the investigation. A spokesman for Sydney Seaplanes said the company had no comment while the investigation into the crash continues.

The business has operated since 2005 with no previous record of mishap. Its director, Aaron Shaw, told reporters on Monday that the engines of its planes are regularly replaced, and the motor on the crashed aircraft had flown for only 200 hours.