Report details final moments of seaplane that crashed on New Year’s Eve

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A worker watches a sea plane as it passes overhead as he stands atop of the Sydney Opera House on a sunny day November 14, 2013. Reuters/David Gray

The seaplane that plummeted on New Year’s Eve had reportedly veered off course before crashing into the Hawkesbury River, leaving six people dead. Its pilot had dramatically veered 1 km off course into Jerusalem Bay, then appeared to have lost control of the de Havilland Beaver at Cowan Creek.

The aircraft set to leave Cottage Point Inn and was due to return to Rose Bay past Shark Rock Point, Jerusalem Bay and Cowan Creek along the Hawkesbury River.

It reportedly made a steep right turn, and its nose dropped before colliding with the water in a near vertical position. Multiple witnesses said it happened shortly after the seaplane entered Jerusalem Bay. There were claims that the aircraft sounded “constant and appeared normal” before the crash that killed all people on board.

The plane's final moments were detailed in a preliminary report by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau released on Wednesday. It suggests that the pilot may have possibly become “disorientated, distracted or incapacitated” when he appeared to lose control of the seaplane.

It remains unknown what caused the pilot to veer off course at low altitude. Gareth Morgan, 44, had reportedly flown the route over 500 times before with Sydney Seaplanes.

Morgan had medical exams with “a high standard of health” weeks before the incident. He held a valid Commercial Pilot (Aeroplane) Licence.

Aviation experts ruled out that the aircraft had steered sharp left into Jerusalem Bay and attempted a 90-degree bank angle turn. Leaving no time for the pilot to radio for help, the 1963 model nosedived into the water and killed the pilot and British catering tycoon Richard Cousins. His fiancee Emma Bowden, her daughter Heather, Cousins’ sons William and Edward were also killed in the crash.

Sydney Seaplanes CEO Aaron Shaw commented about the report, saying it “suggests no evidence of airframe, fuel or engine issues.”

“The key question arising from the report is why the plane crashed approximately halfway down Jerusalem Bay, which is surrounded by steep terrain and has no exit,” reports him as saying.

Meanwhile, ATSB air crash investigators are reportedly encouraging witnesses to help fill in the gap of what exactly happened between the plane landing and taking off again. Anyone with information can contact the ATSB witness information line on 1800 020 616.

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