Search for missing helicopter, five passengers that crashed into water off Anna Bay continues

HEARTBREAK: Helicopter pilot David Kerr, (top) Queensland man Grant Kuhnemann and (bottom) Brisbane dad Jamie Ogden are believed to have perished when a chopper crashed off Anna Bay on Friday, September 6.
HEARTBREAK: Helicopter pilot David Kerr, (top) Queensland man Grant Kuhnemann and (bottom) Brisbane dad Jamie Ogden are believed to have perished when a chopper crashed off Anna Bay on Friday, September 6.

Salvage teams were racing against time this week to recover the private helicopter that crashed with five people on board into waters off Anna Bay last Friday night.

Water police spent Monday patrolling the area where the aircraft crashed shortly before 7pm on September 6 before heavy seas forced them to retreat mid-afternoon.

With further rough seas forecast this week there are fears the remains of 1960s-era Bell UH1 may disintegrate further before they can be retrieved.

Jamie Ogden and Grant Kuhnemann, both from Queensland, Jocelyn Villanueva and Gregory Miller, a married couple from Sydney, and the chopper's pilot and owner David Kerr from Queensland are all believed to have perished when the helicopter disappeared from the Williamtown air traffic control radar at 6.49pm.

Mr Ogden's family spoke of their heartbreak after being notified by police of the crash. Jamie Ogden's father, Graham Ogden, said the group "were full of life, the lot of them".

TRAGIC: Port Stephens police sergeant Ian Allwood addressing media in Anna Bay on Saturday. Picture: Marina Neil

TRAGIC: Port Stephens police sergeant Ian Allwood addressing media in Anna Bay on Saturday. Picture: Marina Neil

"Just one look at the sea out there, you can nearly expect what could have happened," he said. "It would have been a great weekend away, but it didn't turn out that way."

Mr Ogden said his son had brought up "beautiful kids" who miss their father deeply. "My biggest thing now is to recover the body and put him to rest," he said.

He thanked the rescue teams that were searching for the 1960s era Bell UH1 helicopter wreck in heavy seas. "Everything that is possible is being done as far as the police and rescue. It makes you feel a bit better," he said.

It is believed that Mr Ogden, Mr Kuhnemann and Mr Kerr were long-time friends who had planned a weekend away together. Darren Ogden said his brother Jamie had been talking about the trip for weeks.

LOSS: Police at Birubi Point Surf Life Saving Club on Friday night after a chopper was reported missing off Anna Bay. Picture: Marina Neil

LOSS: Police at Birubi Point Surf Life Saving Club on Friday night after a chopper was reported missing off Anna Bay. Picture: Marina Neil

Friends said Mr Kerr has a "wonderful family" and was "always interested in flight, especially helicopters" after spending time in the navy. The helicopter had been flying between Coffs Harbour and Bankstown in Sydney on Friday evening.

Civil Aviation Safety Authority records show the 1960s US military helicopter was registered for use by Brisbane Helicopters in October last year. The helicopter had flown in Vietnam and US Marine Corps before it was restored by Mr Kerr.

The Huey refuelled in Coffs Harbour about 90 minutes before Mr Kerr, described as a "very experienced aviator", contacted Newcastle Airport tower and sought permission to fly higher in treacherous conditions.

A severe weather warning had been issued in the area with peak winds in excess of 125km/h. Air traffic control indicated the aircraft was rapidly losing altitude when contact was lost at 6.49pm. There were no emergency beacons signals or mayday calls detected.

The Australian Defence Force confirmed on Sunday that Mr Miller was an employee but he was not on duty at the time of the crash.

Police have appealed to anyone who may have seen the helicopter before it crashed to come forward.

"Police are interested in talking to anyone who may have been in the Anna Bay/Fishermans Beach area between 5pm and 7pm on Friday or may have filmed the helicopter or taken images of it," a police statement said.

A search operation was launched after police were notified of an "aircraft fading off the radar". The search was coordinated by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority with support from the NSW Police Marine Area Command, Port Stephens-Hunter Police District and the Westpac Rescue Helicopter.

Emergency services continued searching waters off Anna Bay until 12.50am on Saturday, before before picking up gain at 7am. Wreckage from helicopter was spotted on Saturday, with the tail rotor found by water police about 8.45am.

The Westpac Rescue Helicopter spotted the main airframe less than an hour later, roughly eight kilometres south of Fingal Bay. The wreckage sunk before it could be retrieved.

"The location of the airframe is consistent with the drift model of where the aircraft was believed to have entered the water," AMSA said.

The search was suspended at midday on Saturday due to "expert medical advice and the discovery of the damaged airframe". NSW police offshore patrol vessel Nemesis and PolAir patrolled the area on Sunday. Water police patrolled the area on Monday and Tuesday, searching for the bodies of the helicopter's passengers.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau will investigate into the incident.

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