British couple killed in Australia chopper crash were visiting relatives they had not seen for years

The British newlyweds killed in a plane crash between two helicopters in Australia had arrived in the country days before the tragedy to visit relatives they had not seen for years due to the Covid pandemic, their heartbroken family revealed today.

Ron and Diane Hughes, aged 65 and 57, were two of the four victims who died on Monday when the two helicopters collided in front of hundreds of horrified tourists on Main Beach on Australia’s Gold Coast.

Mr and Mrs Hughes, who married in August and have been described by their family as a “fun-loving couple who had a zest for life”, arrived in Australia last week to visit Mr Hughes, Jane Manns, and their grandchildren.

In an emotional tribute, his family said the ‘generous and loyal’ couple were ‘loved and adored by all they knew’, adding that they were still ‘struggling to come to terms with their loss’.

Ron and Diane Hughes, aged 65 and 57 (pictured together on their wedding day), were two of four victims who died when helicopters crashed in front of hundreds of horrified tourists on Main Beach on Australia's Gold Coast on Monday.

Ron and Diane Hughes, aged 65 and 57 (pictured together on their wedding day), were two of four victims who died when helicopters crashed in front of hundreds of horrified tourists on Main Beach on Australia’s Gold Coast on Monday.

Two crashed helicopters sit on the sand at a collision scene near Seaworld, on the Gold Coast, Australia on Monday.

Two crashed helicopters sit on the sand at a collision scene near Seaworld, on the Gold Coast, Australia on Monday.

Two crashed helicopters sit on the sand at a collision scene near Seaworld, on the Gold Coast, Australia on Monday.

Authorities said the fatal crash near Sea World occurred less than 20 seconds after a helicopter took off from a sandbar and collided with another aircraft landing at the same time.

Mr and Mrs Hughes, from Neston, Cheshire, died along with British pilot Ash Jenkinson, 40, and Sydney’s mother, Vanessa Tadros, 36. Tadros’s ten-year-old son was taken out from the rubble and is in critical condition at the hospital.

Two other people on board, Winnie De Silva, 33, and Leon, 9, were also hospitalized. Of the six occupants of the other helicopter, flown by Michael James, five suffered minor injuries while one escaped the scene unharmed.

“We are deeply saddened and still in shock by the events that unfolded on Monday,” the family of Mr and Mrs Hughes told the Liverpool Echo in a statement.

‘Ron and Diane arrived last week, visiting our family on the Gold Coast after being separated by Covid for the past few years.

“They were the most generous, loyal and fun-loving couple who had a zest for life and were loved and adored by everyone they met.

“Tragedies like this happen to ‘other people,’ and we are all struggling to come to terms with our loss.

“They leave a huge void in our family and will be survived by fathers, brothers, sons, daughters and their cheeky grandchildren.”

The family thanked lifeguards, emergency services and Sea World staff for their efforts to save the couple.

The family thanked lifeguards, emergency services and Sea World staff for their efforts to save the couple.  Pictured: Emergency personnel move a body from the scene of a helicopter collision near Seaworld on the Gold Coast on Monday.

The family thanked lifeguards, emergency services and Sea World staff for their efforts to save the couple.  Pictured: Emergency personnel move a body from the scene of a helicopter collision near Seaworld on the Gold Coast on Monday.

The family thanked lifeguards, emergency services and Sea World staff for their efforts to save the couple. Pictured: Emergency personnel move a body from the scene of a helicopter collision near Seaworld on the Gold Coast on Monday.

How the tragedy unfolded in just 20 seconds

How the tragedy unfolded in just 20 seconds

How the tragedy unfolded in just 20 seconds

They also said their thoughts were with all those affected and that they were praying for the recovery of the survivors still in the hospital.

“Finally, the outpouring of love from our friends, family and the Gold Coast community has touched us all and will never be forgotten,” they added.

After the incident, Diane’s brother Dave Boyce wrote on Facebook: “For those who don’t know, my sister and her husband were involved in the helicopter crash on the Gold Coast yesterday.

‘We would also like to thank you all for the love and support we have received. We are truly honored at this heartbreaking time.”

The fatal crash occurred just 20 seconds after the lower plane took off and the two Eurocopter EC130s collided about 250 feet above the ground.

Mr and Mrs Hughes, from Neston, Cheshire, were killed along with British pilot Ash Jenkinson, 40, (pictured) and Sydney's mother, Vanessa Tadros, 36.

Mr and Mrs Hughes, from Neston, Cheshire, were killed along with British pilot Ash Jenkinson, 40, (pictured) and Sydney's mother, Vanessa Tadros, 36.

Mr and Mrs Hughes, from Neston, Cheshire, were killed along with British pilot Ash Jenkinson, 40, (pictured) and Sydney’s mother, Vanessa Tadros, 36.

Vanessa Tadros (left) died instantly in the helicopter crash, but her son Nicholas (right) survived and is in hospital in critical condition.

Vanessa Tadros (left) died instantly in the helicopter crash, but her son Nicholas (right) survived and is in hospital in critical condition.

Vanessa Tadros (left) died instantly in the helicopter crash, but her son Nicholas (right) survived and is in hospital in critical condition.

As the first helicopter gained altitude, it crashed into the second aircraft, which appeared to be descending.

The flailing rotors of the first helicopter shattered the cabin of the second, shattering its glass cockpit just inches from the pilot and passengers inside.

Witnesses said they saw a terrifying cloud of broken glass and debris explode as the two planes collided in midair.

The devastating force of the collision tore off the lower helicopter’s rotor unit and gearbox, immediately causing it to plummet hopelessly out of control.

It turned upside down and plummeted to the ground, striking a sandbar, killing the pilot, Mr. and Mrs. Hughes, and Mrs. Tadros on impact.

Meanwhile, James managed to land his plane upright on a sandbar between Sea World and the Gold Coast’s popular Broadwater beach. It meant that five of the six occupants of his helicopter were slightly injured while one escaped unharmed.

Winne and Leon de Silva (pictured) were rushed to hospital with serious injuries.  Both have stabilized since then.

Winne and Leon de Silva (pictured) were rushed to hospital with serious injuries.  Both have stabilized since then.

Winne and Leon de Silva (pictured) were rushed to hospital with serious injuries. Both have stabilized since then.

The Sea World pilot has been hailed a “hero” for saving the lives of his five passengers – couples Riaan and Elmarie Steenberg, and Marle and Edward Swart – and a tourist from Western Australia.

The forensic accident unit is investigating the incident with the help of the Australian Transport Safety Office.

A spokesman for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said: “We are supporting the family of two British nationals who died in Australia and are in contact with local authorities.”

Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said his thoughts were with those affected by the incident.

“Australia is shocked by the news of the horrific and tragic helicopter incident on the Gold Coast today,” he said in a tweet.

“My thoughts are with all those affected, including first responders, and my deepest condolences go out to those who are grieving.”

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk tweeted that it was an “unthinkable tragedy”.

She said: “My deepest condolences go out to each of the families and everyone affected by this terrible accident.”

SEA WORLD HELICOPTERS’ 40 YEARS OF ‘IMPECCABLE SAFETY’

Sea World Helicopters is an independent offshoot of the theme park near the Gold Coast’s world famous Surfers Paradise, and has operated for over 40 years.

In November 2019, Australia’s largest privately owned multi-million dollar helicopter terminal opened overlooking Broadwater.

It boasted of its ‘impeccable’ safety record which he attributed to its ‘experienced pilots and meticulous maintenance regimen’.

Before Covid hit the tourism industry, the terminal was flying up to 600 passengers a day, offering five-minute scenic flights or 30-minute trips to inland waterfalls and coastal beaches.

In the wake of the pandemic, the firm diversified with trips to local wineries

Chief pilot Ash Jenkinson, 40, who died in the tragedy, said the flights offered tourists a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

‘Flying day trips to various wineries, who doesn’t want to do that?’ he told her in 2021.

‘The Gold Coast is so well known for its golden sands and beach lifestyle that you forget that just a five minute flight inland you have all these beautiful inland rainforests and huge waterfalls to fly over.

“It’s something our guests will remember for a lifetime and one of my favorite places in Australia.”

He added: ‘If you haven’t seen the Costa Dorada from the air, you’re missing out.

“The simple flight up and down the coast, over tall buildings and over the sea, is something you can’t capture from the ground.”

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