Several young men have described their attempts to help six people fatally trapped inside the sinking seaplane that crashed into a river north of Sydney on New Year’s Eve.
Todd Sellars, a metal fabricator from the New South Wales central coast, and three of his mates were among the first on the scene where the seaplane crashed into the Hawkesbury River mid-afternoon on Sunday, Dec. 31.
Sellars saw the crash happen.
“I was on the top deck of the boat and the plane was flying low and really loud so I put my head around the corner and saw it just flip and nosedive straight into the water,” Sellars told The Australian.
Inside the sinking aircraft was a prominent British CEO Richard Cousins, 58, and his two sons, Edward Cousins, 23, and William Cousins, 25, his fiancée Heather Bowden, 48, her 11-year-old daughter, Emma Bowden, and the 44-year-old pilot, Gareth Morgan.
Richard Cousins was the chief executive of catering giant Compass and was planning to step down from his post in the New Year, reported The Telegraph.
— Nine News Sydney (@9NewsSyd) January 3, 2018
Sellars and his mates Kurt Bratby, Lachlan Hewitt and Will McGovern raced in a dingy to the crash site where the aircraft was upside down and sinking rapidly.
Three of them – Sellars, Bratby and Hewitt – dived into the water to try and rescue those in the plane. McGovern remained in the dingy, taking control of the wheel.
“We tried to dive down three or four times, grabbing at the windows and door to try and open something, but the plane was too long and sinking too fast for us to do anything,” Sellars said.
The young man said his vision was badly distorted by the aviation fuel in the water that was seeping from the plane.
“I tried to stay underwater longer but I couldn’t slow my heart rate because of all the adrenaline,” Sellars said.
Another one who dived into the water, Bratby, 27, agreed the fuel impaired their efforts as did the speed of how fast the seaplane was sinking.
“We just kept trying but it was too deep and we had to get out. After that we got a rope and tried to lasso it over the plane with no success,” said Bratby, a real estate agent.
“In the end we tied a buoy to the end of the rope and waited for the rescuers to come,” he said. “As every second went by we were losing more and more hope.”
Cricket players and fans have paused to honour victims of the Sydney seaplane crash who were planning to attend the 5th Ashes Test at the @scg. They include visiting British MPs who say it's a terrible tragedy. @alexhart7 #Ashes #7News pic.twitter.com/d18khuROBN
— 7 News Sydney (@7NewsSydney) January 3, 2018
Sellars said it only took five minutes for the plane to be entirely underwater.
Science teacher McGovern told the ABC that his three mates risked their lives.
“The whole time I was freaking out that this fuel was going to spark,” he said.
“This plane was moving fast, it was going down fast — they could have got sucked in,” he said.
“It was an extraordinary level of bravery that my three mates showed getting in the water.”
Bratby thought there would only be about three people inside the plane because of the size of the aircraft. “We watched them dive and recover the bodies. To hear it was six there was very disappointing. It’s a very tragic time,” he said.
Authorities are hoping that recorded data recovered from the wreckage of a seaplane that crashed into NSW’s Hawkesbury River might explain why the single-engine aircraft plunged into the water on New Year’s Eve, killing six people. MORE: https://t.co/zykRE2epV8 pic.twitter.com/h5m3slZxU2
— Sky News Australia (@SkyNewsAust) January 3, 2018
The group of young men were shaken by the experience.
“I did have a bit of a tear about it, but I know we did our best to help,” Sellars said.
McGovern said he wanted the loved ones of those who perished in the crash to know that there were attempts to save them.
“The families of these poor people, they need to know people were there risking their lives trying to help their family members,” McGovern said.
“There was someone there trying to do something.”
The plane has now been salvaged from the crash site, reported Sky News, and will is being transported to the nearest inspection site where the Transport Safety Bureau will be conduct a thorough investigation.
.@Danielle_Rob: while authorities work to recover the wreckage of the seaplane that crashed into the Hawkesbury River, local police are calling for any witnesses to come forward to assist them in its investigation. MORE: https://t.co/zykRE2epV8 pic.twitter.com/YuocIt2E55
— Sky News Australia (@SkyNewsAust) January 4, 2018