Police and reporters outside the Coolangatta Airport where the helicopter crash occurred.
Police and reporters outside the Coolangatta Airport where the helicopter crash occurred. Photo from the Tweed Daily News/Crystal Spencer

Helicopter in 'sound condition'

DAN Egan from Helibiz says the helicopter that crashed on Thursday, killing 72-year-old pilot Franz Schmolleri, appeared to be in “sound mech- anical order”.

Dr Schmolleri, who lived on the Sunshine Coast, was completing solo flight training in the Robinson 22 helicopter when it crashed into bushland at the Gold Coast Airport about 10.25am.

Mr Egan, base manager at Coolangatta's Helibiz - the company that operates the helicopter - said the aircraft had been flown by other training pilots the morning of the crash.

“It appeared to be in fine mechanical order and the (weather) conditions were good,” Mr Egan said.

His comments come after witnesses said they had seen the helicopter looking “wonky” and “wobbling around” in the air moments before it came down.

Helibiz workers were yesterday being interviewed by authorities.

Mr Egan said he knew Dr Schmolleri but was not prepared to talk about him.

“He'd been training with us for a few weeks,” Mr Egan said.

“We are not in touch with his family, but the authorities certainly would be.”

Dr Schmolleri had recently returned to Australia after working for six years as a relief pilot for Vanuatu's Unity Airways, a company which runs light aircraft sightseeing tours of the volcano Mount Yasur.

Colleague Tony Deamer described him as a larger-than-life character who had previ- ously driven for British Leyland in European touring car championships before gaining his flight licence in his 50s.

He was also a trained ear, nose and throat specialist, Mr Deamer said.

“Franz had such a wealth of stories,” he said. “... He'd raced cars, he'd done a lot of hang-gliding, and a bit of diving, scuba diving, feeding sharks and things like that.”

Mr Deamer said his friend had also flown around the islands delivering presents at Christmas dressed as Santa.

“He was just a lovely person, so friendly, and really, really sweet. It's a sad loss.”

A post mortem examination on Dr Schmolleri's body will be conducted in Newcastle next week.

NSW Police, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority are investigating how the helicopter crashed.

A specialist investigator from the Police Airwing yesterday arrived at the scene, which was just inside an airport boundary fence near the Tugun bypass.

Air safety investigators have begun sending parts of the helicopter wreckage to Canberra for detailed examination.

Senior investigator Neville Blyth said key parts of the chopper such as the main rotor blades and rotor head would go to Canberra for detailed analysis.

“I would expect them to send some other items such as instruments from the cockpit which may have stored information in them which might help with the investigation,” Mr Blyth said.



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