The founder of an award-winning tourism company has been identified as the pilot and one of two people killed in a helicopter crash at Broome.
Troy Thomas, 40, and a 12-year-old girl died when the Robinson R44 helicopter crashed on Antheous Way, Bilingurr, a northern suburb of Broome, just after 2.30pm on Saturday.
A woman in her 20s and another 12-year-old child were critically injured in the crash and have been flown to Perth for medical treatment.
Witnesses reported hearing a loud bang and the sound of the helicopter prior to the crash, while sirens from the large-scale emergency response could be heard across Broome.
I am so incredibly sad to hear about the death of Troy Thomas in a helicopter crash in Broome yesterday, He gave so many people so much joy with his award winning tourism operation at horizontal falls in Australia’s… https://t.co/xLS6V2oYBQ
— Shane Jacobson (@ShaneJacobson) July 5, 2020
Mr Thomas started the award-winning Horizontal Falls Seaplane Adventures company in 2006, but sold it last year to tourism group Journey Beyond.
He was retained for one year as a manager, so was still working with the company at the time of his death.
He accepted an award on behalf of the company at the Australian Tourism Awards in March.
Friends, including sports commentator and former West Coast Eagles player Karl Langdon, took to social media to express their grief.
Small community left ‘struggling’
Kimberley District Inspector Gene Pears said the crash and the deaths were having a significant impact on the local community.
“It’s not a great day for Broome,” he said.
“There were many witnesses to the crash, some may have heard something, some may have seen something.
“We’re interviewing witnesses at the moment, but this will be really tragic for people here in a small community, so many people would be affected, many people would be struggling.
“Please seek professional help and talk to each other and look after each other as Broome people do really well.”
Inspector Pears said as is the case in most country towns, the first responders would have known those involved in the crash.
He said while the investigation was still in its preliminary stages, it was understood the helicopter crashed shortly after take-off.
He said the crash site was being secured by police while they waited for officers from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) to arrive.
Tourism industry ‘in mourning’
The WA branch of the Australian Tourism Export Council commented about Mr Thomas’s death on social media.
“The Tourism Industry is in mourning today with the very sad news of the tragic death of Troy Thomas in Broome,” it said.
“Troy was the founder of the award winning Horizontal Falls Adventure Company, a devoted husband and father, son, brother and friend to many … a beautiful soul who will be missed, but whose legacy will remain as a trailblazer for tourism in Western Australia.
“Our sincere condolences to Troy’s family and friends, and to the family of the little girl who also did not survive the helicopter crash.”
The Tourism Industry is in mourning today with the very sad news of the tragic death of Troy Thomas founder of the award winning #HorizontalFallsAdventureCompany a devoted husband & father, son, brother & friend to many.
Our condolences to Troy’s family & friends
R.I.P. Troy 🙏 pic.twitter.com/yZD5Nf6mFI
— ATEC (@ATECtoday) July 5, 2020
WA Tourism Minister Paul Papalia said he was deeply saddened by Mr Thomas’s death.
“The Western Australian tourism industry has lost a valued leader and a good friend,” Mr Papalia said in a statement.
Natasha Mahar, chief executive of marketing body Australia’s North West, said Mr Thomas was an iconic figure for tourism in the region and worked tirelessly to put Horizontal Falls on the map.
“He really was a character of the Kimberley and he put all his hard work and effort into really making people happy and making their day and giving them an experience that they wouldn’t ordinarily find anywhere else in the world,” she said.
The ATSB said it was bringing in investigators from WA and interstate to examine the wreckage and the crash site.