Sea World helicopter crash: Aircraft's unusual pilot seating restricted vision trends now
An unusual quirk of the two luxury helicopters involved in the Sea World chopper crash may have played a key role in causing the tragedy that killed four people.
Sea World Helicopters had only taken delivery of their high end $2.5million Eurobus EC130 choppers in November to supplement their two older Squirrel 350s.
But the two new aircraft were both configured with the pilot sitting in the left hand seat, which is unconventional in helicopters, with two passengers on his right.
Now investigators are probing if the pilot's view was blocked by the sightseers which may have led to the crash.
Pictures of the wreckage reveal passengers sitting on the right side of the chopper which smashed into the ground, killing pilot Ash Jenkinson and three passengers
Flight controls can be seen on the left hand seat of the helicopter which pilot Michael James managed to crash land safely on the sandbar
The unusual set up meant chief pilot Ash Jenkinson, 40, would have had a restricted view up to his far side where the second aircraft was flying towards him.
The Gold Coast company's two other Squirrel aircraft are set up with the more traditional right-hand seat controls.
The pilots' view will be part of the inquiry into the cause of the crash, revealed Air Transport Safety Bureau chief commissioner Angus Mitchell on Tuesday.
'We have a reasonable understanding of what the two helicopters were doing in those critical phases of flight,' he said.
'But exactly why this occurred, what was the range of visibility from both the pilots, what was happening in the cabins at the time – they're the things that will help us piece together potentially what may have been a contributing factor here.'
As Mr Jenkinson took off, the second helicopter was above him on his right, flying at a 90 degree angle to him, and may have been invisible from his vantage point
How the tragedy unfolded in just 20 seconds
The lower helicopter rose 60m into the flightpath of the second aircraft, slicing its rotor blades into the other aircraft's cabin and ripping its own rotor unit and gearbox off
Just 20 seconds later, his helicopter rose into the flightpath of the second aircraft, slicing its rotor blades into the other aircraft's cabin and ripping its own rotor unit and gearbox off.
The lower plane spun out of control, flipped on its back and plummeted to the ground, smashing into the Broadwater sandbar below around 2pm on Monday.
Sydney mother Vanessa Tadros, 36, British newlyweds Ron Hughes, 65, and wife Diane, 57, died in the crash with the pilot, originally from Birmingham in the UK.
Three other passengers on board, Ms Tadros's 10-year-old son Nicholas, Geelong mother Winnie de Silva, 33, and her son Leon, 9, are being treated in hospital.
Sea World Helicopters had only just brought the crashed EC130s into service in time for the peak Christmas holiday season after trialing one earlier in the year.
Sea World Helicopters had only just brought the new EC130s into service in time for the peak Christmas holiday season after trialing one earlier in the year
They were billed as the ultimate luxury options with leather seats and a curved glass cockpit to maximise passengers' sight-seeing opportunities at beauty spots below
They were billed as the ultimate luxury options with leather seats and a curved glass cockpit to maximise passengers' sight-seeing opportunities at beauty spots below.
One of the aircraft was set up for five passengers plus the pilot, while the other was set up for six passengers and pilot.
The larger combination had two passengers to the right of the pilot who sat on the far left of the cockpit, with four more in the row behind.
Unlike aeroplanes, helicopter pilots traditionally, but not always, sit on the right side of the plane, as the sensitive joystick-like rotor control needs to be held at all times.
Sitting on the