Model of seaplane that crashed in Australia caused deaths of another British family two years ago

Robert Mendick
Clockwise from top right: The Sydney Seaplanes' single-engine DHC-2 Beaver Seaplane; Emma Bowden; Heather Bowden; pilot Gareth Morgan; Eddie Cousins; Will Cousins and Richard Cousins - AAP/Bloomberg/Caters

The same model of seaplane which crashed killing five Britons including a FTSE-100 chief executive had caused the deaths of another UK family two years before, the Daily Telegraph can disclose.

Air accident investigators in Australia are examining the wreckage of the De Havilland DHC-2 Beaver to determine why it nosedived into a river outside Sydney killing all onboard.

The 55-year-old seaplane had been chartered on New Year’s Eve by Richard Cousins, the retiring chief executive of the £25 billion Compass catering group

Mr Cousins, whose first wife died of cancer in 2015, had taken his fiancee Emma Bowden, her 11-year-old daughter Heather and his two grown-up sons to Australia to spend Christmas and New Year together.

The same model aircraft had crashed into the ground in Canada in August 2015 after stalling during a steep turn while on a sightseeing trip.

Tourists Fiona Hewitt, 52, her husband Richard, 50, and children Harry, 14 and Felicity, 17, all from Milton Keynes, died in the accident as well as the pilot. 

Emma Bowden and her daughter Heather 

A report by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) published in September details 31 deaths in nine seprate fatal incidents involving the DHC-2 Beaver, in which it stalled and crashed. It reported another three crashes in which there were no fatalities.

In its main recommendation, the Canadian investigators ‘required’ that all commercial DHC-2 aircraft in Canada be fitted with a stall warning system that emits an alarm when the plane is about to go into a stall.

It is not clear if the Australian seaplane had such a system fitted although its operator Sydney Seaplanes states on its website that all its DHC-2s are “equipped with the latest technology”.

The wreckage of a de Havilland Beaver float plane which crashed in a remote area near Les Bergeronnes, Quebec in 2015; Harry Hewitt and his mother Fiona, who died in the crash Credit: Reuters/SWNS/South Beds News Agency

The Canadian report quotes from the original ‘airworthiness’ report, dating from 1945, that the seaplane “has a tendency to roll” during a stall.

In the Canadian crash in 2015, the seaplane “stalled in a steep turn” and hit a rocky outcrop killing the Hewitt family, who were on the last day of a sightseeing tour of Quebec.

Eyewitnesses to the new year’s Eve crash in Australia said the plane had made a ‘sharp turn’ before nosediving into the water. Todd Sellars, who lives on a houseboat told how he dived into the water but could not open the door to free the passengers before it sank. 

The DHC-2 seaplanes are known as ‘flying antiques’ and require rigorous safety checks. The Australian plane that crashed was 55 years old.

Aaron Shaw, the managing director of Sydney Seaplanes, said the cause of the crash was a mystery and no emergency call was believed to have been made.

he had stressed that his company, operating since 2005, had a previously “unblemished safety record” and that “the safety of our passengers and staff is our absolute primary and highest priority”.

Mr Shaw said weather conditions for the flight were “perfect”, the plane’s engines had been checked, and the pilot was experienced and under no pressure.

Mr Shaw said that Gareth Morgan, the pilot, had recorded more than 10,000 flying hours, including 9,000 on sea planes and had made “hundreds” of round trips from Sydney to the Cottage Point Inn, where Mr Cousins and his party had enjoyed lunch.

Eddie Cousins, who was killed along with his father and brother

Mr Shaw said the engine in the plane that crashed – a 1964 model – had only flown 200 hours. “These aircraft are some of the most widely used sea planes in the world to this day,” he said, adding: “They are checked over at the end of each day. Every 100 hours of flying time they’re taken out of the water into a hangar or an area for regular maintenance. The engines are required to be replaced every 1,200 hours - we replace ours at 1,100 hours and the engine on this aircraft was 200 hours old.”

Kevin Bowe, vice-president of the Seaplane Pilots Association Australia, told Sydney’s Daily Telegraph that the plane may have banked too steeply or too slowly. But he also suggested it may have hit an unexpected pocket of air produced by the nearby hill.  “It is quite hilly in that area and a downdraft may have caught the pilot out,” he said.

Mr Bowe insisted the DHC-2 was typically safer than other small plains because the pilot can generally land it on water in an emergency.

But Mr Bowe added: “If you get a situation like this and it nosedives, it goes straight to the bottom.” 

The devastating crash in Australia this week claimed the lives of a couple due to wed next year and their three children 

By Robert Mendick

Richard Cousins, a captain of industry running a £25 billion company with 550,000 staff, was in the pub drinking with friends. He hadn’t expected to fall in love.

Mr Cousins, the chief executive of Compass, had lost his wife to cancer almost two years earlier. “He wasn’t looking for somebody,” a close confidant told the Daily Telegraph, “Richard was out for a beer with a mate and he saw this woman across the bar and they started chatting. It [their romance] was all very sudden. He had been very down for a long while.”

A year after the chance meeting in a London pub, Mr Cousins, 58, announced he was to marry Emma Bowden, 48, a senior editor on OK! magazine; their wedding date set for July 21 this year.

His wife Caroline, shortly before her death, had urged him, according to reports, “to find someone new”. He had obliged.

Richard Cousins, chief executive officer of Compass Group Plc, poses for a photograph following a Bloomberg Television interview Credit: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg News

Mr Cousins’s two sons Will, 25, and Ed, 23, were to be best men and Miss Bowden’s 11-year-old daughter Heather was enlisted as bridesmaid. 

None of them would survive the New Year’s Eve seaplane crash just outside Sydney.

Mr Cousins and Miss Bowden had decided to celebrate Christmas and the new year with their children in Australia. Days before they had sent out their wedding invitations while an engagement party was planned for March.

Australia was a good choice of destination because Mr Cousins, a passionate cricket fan who opened the batting for his village team, wanted to take in a couple of Ashes tests. Will, Ed and Heather joined them on the family holiday.

Heather had spent a term at Graveney state secondary school in south London and was settling down well in the new family unit, according to neighbours.

Emma Bowden

Lata Maisuria, who lives two doors down, said: “They were happy go lucky people... The daughter had just started school and she seemed happy.”

Will Cousins was the hugely popular head of press for Open Britain, the influential group spearheading the campaign for a ‘soft’ Brexit. Ed had just graduated from St Andrew’s University and was hoping, according to reports, to join the police.

This was a family coming together, a form of team bonding ahead of the coming summer wedding.

But it was a trip that would end in tragedy on New Year’s Eve. 

Sydney plane crash location

The party of five chartered a sea plane to fly them (at cost of £310 per person) from Sydney on a short hop for lunch at the Cottage Point Inn, a restaurant on the banks of the Hawkesbury River. Pippa Middleton and her husband James Matthews had dined there on their honeymoon, also flying with the same company Sydney Seaplanes.

But on the way back to the city in time to watch the spectacular fireworks at Sydney harbour, the 55-year-old plane - for reasons still unknown - nosedived into the water at 3.10pm local time and sank like a stone. All onboard, including the experienced Australian pilot Gareth Morgan, perished.

Efforts to save them failed. Todd Sellars, a witness who was on a houseboat just 160 feet from the plane, dived into the water, hoping to pull out survivors.  

“I ran my hands down through the windows but I couldn’t open the door, it was sinking too fast,” Mr Sellars told ABC Radio. “The plane was pretty long so it was probably three or four metres under the water by the time we got down to the door.”

Describing the crash, he said: “I just thought it was coming in low doing a flyby, but when we looked out - on the corner it just nosedived.”

Eddie Cousins, who was killed along with his father and brother

It is not clear what went wrong and investigators will try to piece together the causes. The bodies were later recovered by divers at a depth of 43ft.

Mr Cousins had been trying to start afresh after the heartbreak of his wife’s sudden death. Caroline, a popular and inspirational English teacher at Beaconsfield High School in Buckinghamshire, had died aged 55 in august 2015, shortly after being diagnosed with cancer.

A neighbour at their family home near Amersham in Buckinghamshire said yesterday: “She [Caroline] had told him to find somebody else. The family had gone through the dreadful loss of Caroline. He was getting his life back together and we heard this dreadful news.”

Another neighbour said: “He was the happiest he had been in a long while. He was so looking forward to the wedding - he was as happy as can be.

Will Cousins, Head of Press for Open Britain

“He had a brilliant time in Australia as far as I know. This was a holiday he had been planning for a long time. He was a lovely man. A strange CEO, more socialist than most CEOs.”

Ian Thorpe, Caroline’s brother, described his brother-in-law as a “very loving” family man who had “made my sister very happy until the day she died”.

Mr Cousins had even bought Mr Thorpe a home to provide him with financial seccurity.

Following the chance encounter with Miss Bowden in the pub, Mr Cousins seemed to have decided it was time to reduce the workload.

After more than a decade at the helm of Compass, transforming it into the world’s largest catering company and the 20th biggest in the FTSE-100 index, Mr Cousins announced in September that he would step down as chief executive. The company’s share price plummeted on the news. A leaving date was set for the end of March.

Normally very private and reluctant to appear in the limelight, Mr Cousins had told one City reporter who described him as “demob happy” that he planned at the top of his to-do list “a spot of golf and jetting Down Under to watch a couple of Ashes Test matches”. Mr Cousins, a hard-working Yorkshireman, had declared: “I’ll be taking a bit of a break.”

An Australian policewoman holds a piece of debris from the seaplane that crashed on Sunday Credit: REUTERS

A family friend said: “He was getting his life back together after the death of his wife. It is desperately sad.”

Mr Cousins had put the family home on sale and moved in with Miss Bowden, the couple living in a modest terraced house in Tooting, south London, with her daughter Heather.

It is understood they had bought a house close by and were renovating it and due to move in before their wedding.

Miss Bowden, educated at the £33,000-a-year Sherborne School for Girls, had worked in the art department at OK! magazine for almost 15 years, rising up the ranks to become Art Editor.

At a colleague’s wedding recently, friends said they had “never seen Emma look so happy”.

Mark Moody, the magazine’s social editor, said yesterday in tribute: “Emma was wonderful, I adored her as did the whole of the OK! Family.

I knew her for over 15 years, she was always happy, never had a bad word against anyone and was the perfect mother to Heather.”

Lisa Byrne, OK!’s former editor in chief, likened her to the actress Grace Kelly. “She was a really, really gorgeous girl who wasn’t part of any politics in the office,” said Ms Byrne, “Her priority was Heather and doing a really good job. I used to call Emma the Grace Kelly of OK! magazine. She was always serene.”

Richard Cousins | Profile

 

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