Travel Magazine

Witnessing Tragedy on the Northern Beaches

By Russellvjward @russellvjward
Yesterday didn't turn out quite as expected.
What started out as a regular Friday morning drive to take Milo for his walk along the sand dunes at Curl Curl beach rapidly turned into a morning of local tragedy.

Witnessing tragedy on the Northern Beaches

Police helicopter flying overhead.  Image: Highway Patrol

As I drove to the beach, the radio presenter announced that a light aircraft had crashed into the ocean not far from Curl Curl beach with two possible survivors at the scene. Already en route to that particular, I was aware of a number of news helicopters buzzing immediately overhead.
Pulling in to the beach car park, it became apparent that this was more than a mere aviation mishap. Local people crowded the dunes above North Curl Curl to watch a search and rescue chopper winch an obviously injured man from the base of the rocks to the left of the beach. Television crews and paramedics gathered by the adjacent surf club and surf lifesavers powered a number of jet skis close to the scene.

Witnessing tragedy on the Northern Beaches

Search and rescue helicopter at the scene

Talking to the people gathered around me, it seemed that the injured man had been rescued by surfers and rock fishermen shortly after the plane ditched into the ocean. Somehow he had managed to escape the rapidly sinking plane and floated in the rough water with serious spinal injuries as his rescuers paddled out to save him.
More remarkably, one of the rescuers had been working on a building site not far from the beach when the plane flew low overhead with its engine malfunctioning. As the plane lost altitude, the builder jumped into his car, drove to the beach car park and, without thinking, dived into the ocean to help rescue the man.
It quickly became apparent to those of us gathered on the dunes that the pilot had not been as fortunate as his passenger and had remained trapped in the plane as it sank into the choppy water. Watching the events unfold below us, we realised this was not just a story of heroics and good fortune but a tragic ending for the poor guy trapped less than six metres below the water's surface and not twenty metres from the shoreline.

Witnessing tragedy on the Northern Beaches

Police looking on.  Image: Highway Patrol Images

Police divers arrived on the scene care of two police boats and, within minutes, were dropping to the ocean floor to retrieve the pilot's body at the same time that his companion was being rushed to hospital injured but thankfully still alive.
I'd decided to tweet about what was happening before me. Out of the blue, a journalist from Australia's ABC identified me on Twitter as a person to interview to gauge the reaction and mood from the local community.
Shortly thereafter, I found myself interviewed by mobile phone detailing my experiences of the morning's very sad events. This interview capped off an extraordinary day.

Witnessing tragedy on the Northern Beaches

Police boats above the plane

Tragedy had struck the Northern Beaches in the most unexpected of circumstances. An innocent life had been lost as a pilot struggled to control an engineless plane which fell into the ocean's depths. In parallel, a life had been saved when local men threw caution to the wind and cast themselves into the water to rescue a young man.
For the remainder of the day I couldn't help but dwell on the unnecessary life lost on that cold ocean floor whilst we watched helplessly from the edge of the beach.
A day that had started with sunny blue skies and positive thoughts of the approaching weekend had developed the most tragic of proportions as our little bit of paradise in this far corner of the world gave witness to a tragic and untimely end for one poor soul.
My mobile phone footage of the rescue attempt

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