Australia helicopter crash survivors pay tribute to 'hero' pilot who landed stricken aircraft

The survivors of a fatal mid-air collision involving two helicopters have heaped praise on their "hero" pilot for landing their stricken aircraft safely, as dramatic new images show them being rescued from the crash.

Pictures show Marie and Edward Swart and Elmarie and Riaan Steenberg, two couples from New Zealand, being evacuated from the grounded aircraft following the crash on Australia's Gold Coast on January 2.

Four people, including a British couple and a pilot, were killed in the crash when the two helicopters collided while in the air.

The four people who died were together in one of the helicopters, containing seven people, which crashed on to a beach.

The second helicopter, containing six people including the Swarts and the Steenbergs, was landed upright by pilot Michael James despite it suffering significant damage in the collision.

Five of those in the second helicopter suffered minor injuries, while the sixth was unharmed.

In a joint statement, the Swarts and Steenbergs paid tribute to their pilot.

They said: "Our pilot, Michael James. You are our hero. You landed the helicopter safely and kept the bystanders and us safe.

"We are eternally grateful to you."

The four survivors also thanked emergency service personnel, bystanders who ran to help and staff at a local hotel who also came to their aid following the crash.

They also paid tribute to those who had died in the collision, saying: "We want to express our deepest sympathies and condolences to the injured, deceased and their families.

"Our hearts are deeply saddened by the loss.

"This has been traumatic for us as survivors, and we cannot imagine the terrible sadness their families and loved ones must be feeling."

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A British couple were named among the four killed in the crash, which took place near to Sea World in the state of Queensland.

Holidaymakers Diane and Ron Hughes, 57 and 65, were from Liverpool and married in 2021.

Mr and Mrs Hughes were on the helicopter with seven people on board.

The 40-year-old pilot, Ashley Jenkinson, who lived in the Gold Coast area but was originally from Birmingham, and a 36-year-old woman, also died.

A 10-year-old boy is in a critical condition, while a 33-year-old woman and a nine-year-old boy are seriously injured.

Australian Transport Safety Bureau chief commissioner Angus Mitchell said the incident was a "tragic start to the new year".

He explained that the main rotors of the helicopter taking off collided with the landing helicopter around 200m in the air, causing considerable damage to the front section.

During the process, the rotor blade and gearbox detached from the main body of the aircraft.

Mr Mitchell told reporters: "We are very fortunate that we're not standing here with far more deaths."

Sea World Helicopters, a separate company from the theme park, expressed its condolences, saying it was "devastated" and was cooperating in the investigation.