Two New Zealand couples who survived the horrific SeaWorld helicopter crash have broken their silence – as they recall how a fun joyride quickly turned into a nightmare.
Elmari and Ryan Steinberg and Edward and Marley Swart from Auckland were holidaying in Queensland when they decided to enjoy a helicopter tour over the Gold Coast on Monday.
But the leisure activity turned to tragedy when their plane collided with another helicopter in mid-air, killing four people and seriously injuring three.
The couple’s pilot managed to land their damaged helicopter safely on a sand bank, saving the lives of all five passengers on board.
In a joint statement, the Steinbergs and Swarts said they are ‘completely devastated’ by the horrific helicopter crash and their hearts are with the loved ones of the victims.
Ryan (far left) and Elmarie Steinberg (left) and Marley (right) and Edward Swart (far right) were caught up in the Sea World helicopter tragedy on Monday
Police and fire and rescue workers inspect a Sea World helicopter after it collided with another chopper on Monday
He said, ‘A 5-minute fun ride to Australia during the holidays has turned into a nightmare.’
‘We are grateful and blessed to have been spared but deeply saddened for those who lost their loved ones and little ones and the mother fighting for her life in the hospital. Our hearts are very heavy for them.
‘Our deepest sympathies and deepest sympathies to the injured and the deceased and their families.
‘We’ll share more when we’re ready; However, as we understand what has happened and its consequential impact on our lives we ask that our need for privacy at this time be respected.’
The couple expressed their gratitude to bystanders, police and emergency services personnel who rushed to their aid and kept them calm and comfortable after the accident.
Elmarie Steinberg (pictured with husband Ryan) remains in the Gold Coast to recover from injuries sustained in the crash
The pair were on the trip of a lifetime with friends and fellow Aucklanders Edward and Marley Swart (pictured).
He said the overwhelming response showed them ‘partners in action’ and how ‘Australians come together to help in times of need’.
The tourists also thanked the hospital staff who looked after them ‘for their kindness and compassion during this painful experience’.
The final part of the statement was dedicated to his heroic pilot Michael James who guided his damaged aircraft to shore safely despite the bedlam.
‘To our pilot who safely landed the helicopter through all the chaos, keeping us and others safe. You are our hero,’ the Steinbergs and Swarts said.
‘Thank you very much.’
Pilot and new father Ash Jenkinson, 40, British newlyweds Ron and Diane Hughes, 65 and 57, and Sydney’s mother Vanessa Tadros, 36, were killed when their helicopter crashed to the ground shortly after takeoff.
The three sole survivors on that helicopter – Vinnie de Silva, 33, his son Leon, 9, and Ms Tadros’ son Nicolas, 10 – were taken to hospital with serious injuries.
How the accident came to light in just 20 seconds
The two helicopters involved in the collision can be seen on the sandbank – one crashes into the sand and the other lands safely
Both Ms De Silva and her son, who suffered a skull fracture, are stable, while Nicolas remains on life support in a critical condition.
Four survivors in the other aircraft suffered injuries from shards of glass as the lower helicopter’s rotor blades slid through the cockpit.
In a post on Wednesday, Mrs Steinberg confirmed to friends that she was involved in the helicopter crash and provided an update on her condition.
“I am still in hospital on the Gold Coast recovering from my injuries,” she wrote on Facebook.
‘That’s all I can say [is] Thank you God for sparing us all.
‘Thanks for all your messages. I will reply at the appropriate time.. Love you all’.
The new details come after a video emerged of the moments just before the helicopters collided.
Footage taken from inside the helicopter that landed safely shows a passenger tapping the pilot on the shoulder to warn of impending danger.
The Air Transport Safety Bureau has now launched an investigation into the accident and has vowed to look into all possible causes of the accident.
Gold Coast pilot Ash Jenkinson is being remembered as a hero after the tragedy, for his work during the flood crisis to bring aid and rescue stranded people
Newly married British couple Ron Hughes (65) and wife Diane (57) were killed in the tragic accident.
ATSB Chief Commissioner Angus Mitchell said: ‘We now have the arduous task of trying to reconstruct what really happened.
‘We know that the takeoff and landing phases of any aircraft operation are critical phases of flight, where the pilots’ cognitive workload is at its greatest.
The Steinbergs and Swarts said they were assisting the Australian Transport Safety Bureau and the Queensland Police in their inquiries.
Meanwhile, one of the rescuers who arrived to help the victims is still haunted by the creepy sight and noises he hears when he goes to bed every night.
Ron Drevlak and his wife were walking their dog when witnesses witnessed the helicopter crash.
With no thought to risking his own safety, Mr Drevlak was one of the first rescuers on the scene and arrived before the pilot of the other helicopter had landed safely on the sandbar.
Mr Drevlak told the Today Show on Thursday: ‘The instinct kicked in just to run and run and help.
‘In the back of my mind, I expected bad things to happen, but it didn’t occur to me at the time because I can still clearly remember that when I got to the first chopper, the second chopper wasn’t even on it. Ground noise and everything was still like a buzz around us.
Even after three days have passed, he is still in shock from the scenes of the face-to-face.
Vanessa Tadros (left) was killed instantly in the helicopter crash, but her son Nicolas (right) survived and is in hospital in critical condition
Winne and Leon de Silva (pictured) were taken to hospital with serious injuries. they are both stable since
“It’s still very raw in my mind, especially from the point where the helicopter broke apart and fell to the ground,” Mr Drevlak said.
‘Noise, it’s something that keeps playing over and over again in my head every time I go to sleep at night.
‘It’s not a very pleasant thing to see.’
John Orr-Campbell, the owner of Sea World Helicopters, also spoke of remembering Mr Jenkinson as a ‘first class pilot and a first class man’ for the first time since the tragedy.
‘I have known Ash personally for nine years. He was a good man and an exceptional pilot with 6,210 flight hours,’ Mr Orr-Campbell wrote online.
‘To lose a man of such caliber and a pilot like Ash is shocking in every sense of the word. Me and all the staff at Sea World Helicopters are devastated. My heart aches thinking of Ash’s fiancee Kosha and their one-year-old son, Kaiden.
‘I would also like to commend the second pilot, Michael James, who heroically landed the other aircraft safely. We wish him well.
Mr Orr-Campbell revealed the veteran pilot obtained his commercial pilot’s license in June 2008 and flew helicopters in Western Australia until 2011.
‘During this time Ash showed his love and commitment to the community – he was involved in a number of search and rescue flights in the area,’ he said.
‘This community mindset has seen them dedicate over 700 hours and many days a day away from family and friends to assist in firefighting operations across Australia.’
In 2019, Mr. Jenkinson became Chief Pilot of Sea World Helicopters and oversaw all aspects of safety and flight operations.
Mr Orr-Campbell wrote, ‘We have lost a first class pilot, a first class man and a wonderful father, companion and friend.’
‘RIP Ash, you will always be in our hearts.’
40 years of ‘impenetrable security’ for SeaWorld Helicopters
Sea World Helicopters is an independent branch of the theme park close to the world famous Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast, and has operated for over 40 years.
In November 2019 it opened Australia’s largest privately owned multi-million dollar helicopter terminal opposite Broadwater.
It boasts of its ‘impeccable’ safety record, thanks to its ‘experienced pilots and meticulous maintenance regime’.
Before Covid hit the tourist industry, the terminal handled up to 600 passengers a day, offering five-minute scenic flights or 30-minute journeys to inland waterfalls and coastal beaches.
In wake of pandemic, firm diversifyes with visits to local wineries
Chief pilot Ash Jenkinson, 40, who was killed in the tragedy, said the flights offered a once in a lifetime experience for vacationers.
‘Day trips flying around the many wineries, who doesn’t want to do that?’ He said in 2021.
‘The Gold Coast is so famous for its golden sands and beach lifestyle, you forget you have all these beautiful hinterland rainforests and massive splashable waterfalls just a five-minute flight inland.
‘It’s something our guests will remember for a lifetime and it’s one of my favorite places in Australia.’
He added: ‘If you haven’t seen the Gold Coast from the air, you’re missing something.
‘Simple flying up and down the beach, flying over tall buildings and over the ocean, is something you just can’t understand from the ground.’
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