An experienced aircraft engineer familiar with Sydney’s seaplane fleet says even the best warning equipment may not have been enough to save a plane that crashed on New Year’s Eve killing five British tourists.
NSW police will attempt to recover the Sydney Seaplanes DHC-2 Beaver from the Hawkesbury River on Thursday in an operation that’s expected to start at dawn and run into the afternoon.
All Waterfront Constructions plans to use a crane on a barge to pull the seaplane – which is resting on its roof– from the riverbed.
Two slings will be lowered and passed through the aircraft’s cabin by police divers, operations director Chris Kemp told AAP on Wednesday.
“Then we’ll be lifting the whole lot up and placing it on the barge,” he said.
Experienced pilot Gareth Morgan died along with high-profile UK businessman Richard Cousins, his two adult sons Edward and William, his fiancee Emma Bowden and her 11-year-old daughter when the plane plunged into Jerusalem Bay on December 31.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau is working to determine why the seaplane went down. One possibility is the plane stalled.
Aircraft maintenance engineer Michael Greenhill told AAP on Wednesday that while it is not mandatory in Australia for Beaver planes to have stall warnings installed most do.
“A stall is when the airflow over the aircraft’s wing becomes insufficient enough to produce lift,” Mr Greenhill said.
“So basically the wing stops flying.”
A Canadian report, published in September 2017, recommended the warning system be mandatory on all Beavers.
Mr Greenhill has flown in the plane that crashed on New Year’s Eve. He couldn’t remember if it had the warning system installed but said it may not have helped in any case.
“Even if the Beaver had this system fitted there’s a large possibility there would have been insufficient time to rectify the situation due to the low altitude and approaching terrain.”
Fans of the Beaver aircraft have warned in online forums that the plane can stall in sharp-banked turns because of its wing shape.
Mr Greenhill says most pilots are aware of this “unique” element of the plane’s design.
He said the Beaver was one of the most highly regarded planes in operation and, despite their age, were considered among the safest in the world.
Sydney Seaplanes had a good reputation as did Mr Morgan, the engineer added.
The ATSB is investigating witnesses’ claims the plane made a right-hand turn before it fell into the water, with ATSB executive director Nat Nagy saying all issues were being investigated.
It’s important not to draw any conclusions that this is a systemic issue.”
The wreckage of the plane is expected to be recovered about midday on Thursday before being taken to a reserve in Bayview.
Investigators hope crucial data can be recovered from the plane’s avionics instruments. Smartphones or cameras on board could also be used to piece together its final moments.
Former British MP Gerry Bowden, whose daughter and granddaughter were among those killed, says their loss has been felt deeply but their memory will shine brightly forever.
“Gerry Bowden and all his family are devastated by the loss of dear Emma and dear Heather who spread happiness and joy among all they met throughout their lives,” the family said in a statement to London’s The Telegraph.
“We were looking forward to the wedding in the (northern hemisphere) summer. Emma and Richard were so obviously in love and looking forward to a life together.”
Sydney Seaplanes has suspended all flights indefinitely following the tragedy.