Pelican 'likely cause' of fatal plane crash

A PELICAN or other seabird may have sent Murwillumbah's Andrew Mitchell and Currumbin's Garry Sweetnam plummeting to their deaths, aviation experts have said. The two men were killed when their twin-seater ultralight crashed 500m off Narrowneck beach, near Surfers Paradise, on Friday. At least 20 people, including lifeguards who reported the crash, saw the plane spiral out of control and slam into the water. The bodies of the two men were recovered on Wednesday after the wreckage was finally found 20 metres below the surface. Mr Mitchell, 33, and Mr Sweetnam, 49, were still strapped into the wreck, with the seats, engine and a steel part all that remained of the plane. Rough seas had delayed the discovery of the bodies and wreckage until almost a week after the crash. Police expect to salvage the wreckage today, weather permitting, and will prepare a report for the coroner. Police divers and water police spent yesterday examining the wreckage on the sea floor and gathering pieces of debris to help provide a detailed report to the coroner. Gold Coast Sports Flying Club past president David Donahoe said the most likely explanation for the crash was that a bird had smashed into the windscreen. "There was something catastrophic and it's all speculation, but a bird strike does sound pretty logical," Mr Donahoe said. "They say that the air, like the sea, is%unforgiving of error, but it's also unforgiving of bloody pelicans." Mr Donahoe said it was unlikely pilot error had anything to do with the crash, given Mr Sweetnam's experience as both a pilot and%licensed aircraft inspector. The father-of-two had conducted several inspections at the Gold Coast Sports Flying Club, he said. "The guy who owned it (the ultralight) and built it and was flying it was a licensed aircraft maintenance engineer," he said. "It's unnerved quite a few people, because someone so safety conscious and conscientious about having everything right could be brought down." Mr Donahoe said Mr Sweetnam was known as a "very particular, very fussy" inspector. Queensland Ultralight Association's Lloyd Salisbury agreed that it was probably some external factor that resulted in the crash. "(The pilot) had all the credentials in the world ... he was the epitome of regulation, but it didn't help him at all if, in fact, it was a bird strike," he said. "That's the only thing at the moment that makes commonsense." Pieces of the plane's windscreen and fuselage were recovered from the roof of the Southport Surf Life Saving Club, Southport Yacht Club and Main Beach, indicating that the plane had struck trouble mid-flight and started breaking up, police said. Anyone who has found more debris has been asked to hand them into the Gold Coast Water Police.



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