’He just loved life’: Five perish in horror crash

 

THREE Queensland mates on a weekend away have been lost at sea after their Vietnam War-era helicopter was hit by wild weather and plunged into the ocean.

Jamie Ogden and Grant Kuhnemann left Brisbane aboard their mate and pilot David Kerr's UH-1 "Huey" on Friday afternoon - along with Sydneysiders Jocelyn Villanueva and Greg Miller - bound for the NSW capital.

The restored UH-1 stopped to refuel at Coffs Harbour and was headed for Sydney's Bankstown airport when it disappeared off Newcastle shortly after 6pm.

A mass search and rescue operation was launched immediately but wild weather meant the aircraft was not spotted until yesterday.

 

Police officers at Anna Bay, near where the helicopter went down. Picture: Peter Lorimer
Police officers at Anna Bay, near where the helicopter went down. Picture: Peter Lorimer

There was no mayday call and no emergency beacon during a terrifying plunge that tracking websites recorded as hitting speeds of more than 154 knots, or 285km/h, before vanishing.

Darren Ogden last night told The Sunday Mail his brother "just loved life" and had been talking about the trip with his mates for weeks.

Darren said Jamie had been a police officer before leaving the force after serving across the state and became a financial planner. But his aim was to escape the rat race to his property near Maryborough and live off the grid.

His children Ben and Steph are grappling with losing their father, while Darren was last night in Newcastle after spending the day at the search that became a recovery mission when the damaged helicopter was spotted shortly after 9am.

Darren said all the family could hope for now was that Jamie's body could be found and returned to them.

Jamie Ogden.
Jamie Ogden.

 

David Kerr.
David Kerr.

Police divers were yesterday on the scene after the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said advice indicated no chance of survival.

A fellow helicopter pilot, who had known Mr Kerr for years, said: "He was a really good friend. He was a really good pilot and he's definitely going to be sadly missed in the industry.''

The friend said Mr Kerr, a very experienced pilot, had been very helpful to many.

"He was just a nice person. He was a go-getter, just a lively personality. There was never a dull moment with him,'' he said.

Greg Miller and Jocelyn Villaneuva. Picture: Facebook
Greg Miller and Jocelyn Villaneuva. Picture: Facebook

Mr Kerr's Facebook page is filled with images of his beloved warbird, which was painted to replicate service in the United States Army.

"He had it for about 12 months and it was in very good condition," said Warbird Aviation pilot Kim Rolph-Smith, who has a hangar opposite Mr Kerr's at Archerfield, near Brisbane.

"It was flown regularly; I would be very surprised if there was anything wrong with it. He was a very confident pilot."

It is understood Mr Kerr, who previously owned a real estate agency in Kenmore, had reluctantly listed the aircraft for sale recently.

One aviation source suggested Mr Kerr was on a "ferry flight" and flying the helicopter to Sydney were it would be housed at a hangar at Bankstown Airport.

The UH-1 ‘Huey’ had been painted to replicate a US Army helicopter.
The UH-1 ‘Huey’ had been painted to replicate a US Army helicopter.

Hopes faded of finding survivors yesterday when the AMSA suspended the search for the aircraft due to the extent of the damage.

"The search was focused on an area of about 150 square nautical miles where the radar signal was lost," a spokesman said.

"Weather conditions in the area at the time the aircraft went missing were poor with strong winds and reduced visibility.

"Air traffic control indicated that the aircraft was rapidly losing altitude when contact was lost, there was no detected emergency beacons signals or mayday calls."

Just before 9am yesterday, a NSW Police boat spotted a tail rotor in the ocean. Forty-five minutes later the Westpac Rescue Helicopter sighted the main airframe semi-submerged 8km south of Fingal Bay.

Additional reporting Kay Dibben and Dan Proudman