The devastated family of a young woman whose body was pulled from Lake Eildon in Victoria’s alpine region after an ultralight plane crash has remembered her as a “vibrant” personality and someone who left a mark on the community.
Kathleen Canavan was a passenger in the light aircraft flown by her uncle, Danny Canavan, when tragedy struck at Gough’s Bay about 12.20pm on Saturday.
Local residents and fishermen went out in boats to help the pair after seeing the ultralight crash, pulling Mr Canavan, aged in his 40s, from the water.
But they could not find Ms Canavan. The 23-year-old, from Vermont South in Melbourne’s east, was discovered by police divers eight hours later, and by that time she could not be revived.
Relatives were gathered at the lake on Sunday to comfort each other and reflect on the loss of a “lovely” woman whom, they said, would be remembered for her beaming smile.
Gerard Canavan, another uncle of Ms Canavan, told the media on Sunday the family was “struggling” with the loss.
“She really was a vibrant girl and will leave her mark as just one of those happy, helpful, loving girls that has been instilled by good parenting and the community and the religious group around them,” he said.
“I think that showed very strongly in her stature as a person and as a young lady.”
The Hang Gliding Federation of Australia told The New Daily it would consider how to improve flight safety in future.
The organisation is waiting for results of an investigation by Mansfield Police, who will determine the cause of the crash, before considering how to respond.
Lack of detail into aviation accidents
While police investigate the cause of the crash, and authorities remain quiet about how and why the plane plunged into the Victorian lake, research suggests the dangerous rate of fatal recreational aircraft accidents.
Recreational flying is 40 times more likely to end in a fatal accident than commercial air transport, according to the federal government’s Australian Transport Safety Bureau.
The transport safety authority has also noted a concerning lack of detail in recreational flying accident reporting.
“The limited detail provided for most occurrences, especially by recreational flyers, remains a challenge for the industry and ATSB,” a 2018 report said.
It suggested effective and timely reporting was “not just for the potential of initiating an investigation”, but aviation transport safety study and research.
A spokesperson for the Civil Aviation Safety Authority told The New Daily on Sunday it was “too early” to consider a safety regulation review of aviation sporting bodies such as the Hang Gliding Federation of Australia.
“The HGFA is assisting police and the coroner and we will monitor all of that,” the spokesperson said.
“Any issues that need to be addressed, we can ensure they will be addressed.”
Authorities on Sunday recovered the wreckage of the plane and will examine the aircraft as part of the report for the coroner.
“It is too early to determine the cause of the accident,” HGFA chief operations officer Brett Coupland said.
“Upon completion of the police investigation, the HGFA will assist the coroner and continue to work to improve safety for all members.”
Eight-hour search for a woman gone too soon
Emergency crews rushed to Lake Eildon on Saturday afternoon after the crash, with SES volunteers and police search and rescue teams beginning the painstaking task of searching for signs of Ms Canavan.
As every hour passed it became less likely she would be found alive, and after eight hours the tragic death was confirmed with the discovery of her body in the water.
Mr Canavan was treated at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne but has since been released.
Mr Canavan said Ms Canavan’s father was in “complete shock” after the death of his daughter and the uncle who was the pilot would be in distress.
“He’s very remorseful,” he said.
“He’s been sedated and being medically checked so he will struggle with this very badly.”
Senior Sergeant Damian Keegan said many locals and fisherman saw the plane go down in the area of Gough’s Bay and tried to assist.
“Fishermen [and] residents saw it go down and went out to try and help passenger and pilot,” he said.
“Unfortunately it was only the pilot who was saved.”
Carissa Van Buiten, who was out on the lake with her husband, told Fairfax she’d seen the aircraft flying low over the water around midday.
“We were on our boat and we say the plane fly back at it was really low – around five metres off the water,” Ms Van Buiten said.
Another witness told Seven News: “He was just flying around, just 20 metres off the water, and he appeared like he was going up to outer space and then he has just come down. Hit the water and bloody somersaulted. Like a rock, mate, just straight down”.
A property manager at real-estate agency Fletchers, Ms Canavan had only celebrated her 23rd birthday on May 5, according to her Facebook page.
Her public social media profile showed a smiley woman who liked to run, watch AFL football, go to the movies and wear a bright-red lipstick.
She posted quotes and stories that promoted choosing to be happy, and offered support to those suffering from mental health issues.
The Civil Aviation Authority and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau have been told about the crash.