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Guest Fred Bear

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Guest Fred Bear

A SEARCH is on for two people who were aboard an ultralight aircraft which crashed into the sea and sank off the Gold Coast this afternoon.


Witnesses said the aircraft nosedived into the water about 500m offshore from Narrowneck beach, near Surfers Paradise, about 4pm (AEST).


The aircraft sank immediately upon hitting the water, police said.


A police spokesman said grave fears were held for the two people on board, including a pilot from the Gold Coast.


Emergency Management Queensland divers, water police, surf life savers and volunteer marine rescue members are searching for the pair, but were being hampered by a large oil slick from the plane's wreckage.


The crash was seen by up to 20 witnesses and initially reported by a Gold Coast City Council lifeguard.


A witness told Channel 10 the aircraft nosedived into the ocean.


“It was a small, sort of red-and-white acrobatic-type plane and I saw it from maybe 1000m up and it was spiralling, nosediving straight into the ocean,†the man said.


“And as it spiralled around you could see it only had one wing and then half a second later you heard a big pop.â€Â


Another witness said the noise was similar to that of a jet ski.


“We were just swimming out there and we heard this funny noise, but it sounded like a jet ski just going whoomp, but then ... somebody told us a plane came down,ââ‚ he said.



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Guest Fred Bear

Further news from somewhere else. Quoted and edited:


A light aircraft crashed into the ocean off Surfers Paradise this afternoon. Although no details of the aircraft have officially been given, it was Zenith VH--ZRS flown by it's builder Garry Sweetnam. It may have lost a wing.

Picture of aircraft involved. Garry is the Zenith dealer in QLD. Was at Narromine (NATFLY) last year.



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Guest brentc

That is a tragedy indeed and it is a sad day. I met Garry at Coolangatta airport with my girl on 7th July 2006 when the aircraft was newly completed and only had a few hours on the clock. It was an immaculate aircraft in every respect. He said he had built it to sell and that it didn't go as quick as he thought it would however it was a nice machine. I do wonder what on earth could have happened to it.


It was fitted with a Jabiru engine and from memory a 6 cylinder.


Interesting though as it's been registered to someone else other than Garry since it was new. I note that he also has 2 Cessna's registered to him personally.


'Oil slick' would likely just be fuel in the water.



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News Item from the Gold Coast Bulletin Newpaper...


March 8, 2008 11:23am


Two Die in Coast Plane Plunge


TWO men are missing, believed dead, after their two-seater kit plane began breaking up before it spiralled nose first into the sea, 700m off Narrow Neck on the Gold Coast yesterday.


Police divers will search waters up to 40m deep early today but there is little hope for veteran light aircraft pilot and aircraft engineer Gary Sweetnam, 48, of Currumbin Valley, and his passenger Andrew Mitchell, 33, of Murwillumbah.


The pair were heading north along the shoreline in Mr Sweetnam's single-engined, twin- seater Zenith kit plane when disaster struck shortly after 4pm.


Mr Sweetnam is married to Kay and they have two daughters -- Taylor, 14, and Shani, 10.


A distraught Mrs Sweetnam said last night her husband was the love of her life.


"He loved his family," she said. "He was a wonderful husband and father. He worked so hard for his family, to provide and to send his children to a good school."


Mrs Sweetnam said her husband, an aircraft engineer, was at the top of his field.


"He was a very respected man in the industry, a very well respected engineer," she said.


"He was a very, very experienced pilot."


Gold Coast City lifeguard Mark Pringle was in Tower 38 when he noticed something out of the corner of his eye.


"I saw this plane about 200 metres high and seven hundred metres from shore spiralling rapidly into the sea about 4.10pm," he said.


"It hit the surface very hard, stayed on the top of the water for about 15 seconds then sank. The whole thing just took seconds.


"I called the authorities then radioed all the lifeguards from Broadbeach to Surfers and we had jet-skis out there in five minutes, but all they found was a shoe, a plastic bag, some other personal items and an oil slick marking the spot."


Mr Pringle, who has been a lifeguard for 30 years, said he thought the plane would have sunk to the bottom immediately.


Another witness, Canadian tourist Kevin Kish, said he was on the beach with his family when he noticed something red and white flashing.


"It was about a 1000 metres up and I thought it had to be a radio controlled plane and then I realised it was real plane and it was just spiralling nose first into the water and I thought it had lost a wing," he said.


"About half a second after it hit there was a big pop and it was gone, but although it had been quick it was a really distinctive plane."


Airconditioning mechanic Shan McDonald was working on the roof of a high rise when he saw something white crash.


"I thought it was a whale because there was this big splash and then nothing," he said.


Other witnesses on the beach and in high rises told The Gold Coast Bulletin that it happened so fast they were unclear about what they saw.


"There was just a a big splash of water and it was over. At first I thought it must have been a whale then I saw people running and jet-skis heading out," said a surfer who did not want to be named.


Another witness, who did not want to be named, said he had been at the Southport Yacht Club when he saw a white single-engined plane with red and yellow stripes plunging .


"It was just spiralling out of the sky with no smoke or anything. "I'd say the prop stalled," he said. "I thought 'if that's joy flighting it's not going to pull up in time' so I drove around the corner to see.


"The plane was just heading for the bottom of the ocean and you could see where the av (aviation) gasses had leaked out of it."


Police regional duty officer Acting Inspector Geoff Palmer confirmed that two men had been on board the kit plane when it crashed.


"It was a local aircraft on a standard flight and at this stage we don't know what went wrong," he said.


He said apart from lifeguards on jet skis, helicopters and the Water Police being quickly on the scene, there was little they could do.


There are indications the plane began breaking up in the sky.


Witnesses said they saw debris continuing to fall to the ground after the craft crashed into the ocean.


Two pieces of light-brown tinted perspex, believed to be from the plane's windscreen, fell on the roof of the Southport Surf Life Saving Club.


A third fell on the ground just outside the Southport Yacht Club in Sea World Drive.


Police called in firefighters to help retrieve one of the pieces from the roof of the surf club before they moved to the yacht club to retrieve the third shard of perspex.


One man watching the retrieval of the plane's parts worriedly asked reporters if the plane was a 'fixed-wing' aircraft.


"My friend has one," he said.


"Do you know if it's him?"


Within minutes he received the news it was not his friend inside.


"I feel sorry for who it is though. That's really sad."


More pieces of debris are expected to be recovered in the coming days.


At the crash scene, several rescue helicopters hovered overhead, working with a flotilla of boats below as the search continued for any sign of life.


But as time dragged on, the search for survivors became more a search for debris and there was not much to be found.


The Emergency Management Queensland and RACQ CareFlight rescue helicopters scoured the coastline around where the aircraft crashed while news helicopters hovered nearby.


On the water the Volunteer Marine Rescue, Coast Guard and Water Police boats, and lifeguards aboard jet-skis, circled the point where they believed the aircraft sat on the ocean floor.


At one point the RACQ CareFlight chopper hovered above a certain point for several minutes as lifeguards, wearing goggles and flippers, took turns diving down to search.


But they were unable to locate anything.


Police are urging anyone who finds any wreckage from the plane to contact their local police station or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.


It is not clear what Mr Mitchell's role was yesterday, other than as a passenger, but Mr Sweetnam is based at the Gold Coast Airport with a company called Zodiac XL, which produces $30,000 kit planes.


When The Bulletin visited the Zodiac XL hangar about 5.30pm, a female staff member said they were still establishing whether it was their plane that went down.


The woman said Zodiac XL sold and maintained aircraft.


By 6pm, a federal police officer had attended the Zodiac XL hangar, accompanied by an Australian Wings Academy staff member.


A man from inside the Zodiac XL hangar then walked outside, visibly distressed, telling The Bulletin he had no comment to make.


A promotional sign in the Zodiac XL office advertised building your own kit aircraft.


People at nearby hangars said they had heard of the crash but did not know who was involved.


Mr Sweetnam was also an engineer who certified aircraft for their airworthy certificates and was well known in Gold Coast aviation circles for his work with gliders and kit planes.


He had previously been involved in Gliding Adventures, taking passengers on gliders and also Aerial Burials, which released the ashes of the deceased over land and sea.





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My condoleances are with their friends and families. Since only recently joining this forum my shortcut actually opens up to the Zenith page of this site. I plan on building the XL myself at some stage in the near future.


By all accounts at this stage its simply an accident. But can anyone speculate on how the perspex from the screen lands on the beach and the plane spirals into the sea 700m offshore? Short of major structal failure how does the canopy break up like that long before impact without a possible mid air collision?


"Two pieces of light-brown tinted perspex, believed to be from the plane's windscreen, fell on the roof of the Southport Surf Life Saving Club."


Again my sincere condoleances.





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ABC Online News


Homemade ultralight 'broke up during flight'


Updated March 8th 2008 4.30 pm


Gold Coast ultralight wreckage found on roofs Police now believe an ultralight plane which crashed into the ocean off the Gold Coast yesterday started breaking up during flight.


Pieces of the homemade Zennith Zodiac - including parts of the wing, nose and windscreen - have been recovered from the roofs of buildings near where it plunged into the sea.


Personal items from the two men on board - a 49-year-old local pilot and his 33-year-old passenger from northern New South Wales - have also been found. The men are still missing.


Police Inspector Barry Day says the plane took off from Coolangatta Airport yesterday afternoon on a routine trip around the Gold Coast.


"The aircraft has been in service for a number of years and has been very reliable," he said.



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Guest sceadu52jr

Question on Zodiac Canopy mounting


By all accounts at this stage its simply an accident. But can anyone speculate on how the perspex from the screen lands on the beach and the plane spirals into the sea 700m offshore? Short of major structal failure how does the canopy break up like that long before impact without a possible mid air collision?

"Two pieces of light-brown tinted perspex, believed to be from the plane's windscreen, fell on the roof of the Southport Surf Life Saving Club."



I have a question! How is the canopy mounted/hinged on the Zodiac?





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Guest Fred Bear

Looking at the pic I posted above could open front to back. I could understand that flying off if not secured correctly but...the wing? Bear in mind this is the general public saying the wing 'fell off'. Could have been the canopy they saw. But...loss of control? Don't know. Seeing this is GA registered we will be able to see the investigation process.



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Guest dracer

i cant beleive perspect windows and wing were foung, sounds like the thing just fell apart!! horrible just horrible, i feel so sad for the family and friends. my heart goes out to them.



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Is horrible...I saw his family on the news..poor things.. His wife seemed like a nice down to earth sorta lady and 2 beautifull kids...so sad..


Im a little confused, if it was GA registerd acft then why are they (we ) calling it an ultralight??


On the news report i saw police removing debris froma roof, looked like perspex to me, a piece about the size of 2 dinner plates...Now i hate how ppl speculate about what may have happend, but this is a strange one.. The acft crashed 700m out to sea and apparently very noose down attitude, but the debris was found on rooftops..I reckon from that we can assume ( not my favourite word) that a major controll problem was apparent because of all the beach he would have had beneath him to try some sort of emergency landing once things started falling off...but, i can't see a one winged plane getting that far out to sea...


Condolences to all involved...Such a terrible thing.. There has been far to many of these lately..



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Guest sceadu52jr
...Now i hate how ppl speculate about what may have happend, but this is a strange one.. The acft crashed 700m out to sea and apparently very noose down attitude, but the debris was found on rooftops...

I also must say that anything we say here is speculating and we are all aware that a proper investigation will be carried out to try and determine the cause....but as pilots we tend to think through the possible events that may sound plausible.


I am not familar with aircraft type but the news about the canopy got me thinking about an article in the American "Flying" magazine back in the late 70's written by Richard Bach (Jonathan Livingston Seagull writer). Richard owned a BD5J (Jet) and wrote about his aircraft and how it flew. A sidebar to this story told about a BD5 pilot who had the rear hinged canopy unlatch and open in flight.....in 1/2 sec the aircraft pitched up pulling 14G and bending the wing spar such that each wing tip was now something like 18 inches higher! The pilot recovered and was still able to bring the aircraft down with full control. He was lucky!!


Research show me that the zodiac XL canopy hinges from the front though...?







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Guest ozzie

I can recall at least 4 canopy related accidents from over the last 30 years the first three caused pilot incapacitation as the canopy departed and the 4th that happened about two years ago resulted in the aircraft flipping on landing pilot reported that the aircraft was only just controllable.


from what i have read above sounds very similar to the past accident reports.


It may come down to cause of failure and may include bird strike possibility.


Regardless a sad day and great loss to the industry





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Guest Teenie2



Maybe the canopy opened in flight, sheared off and struck the tail causing major structural damage.


After reading about this I feel like putting the Teenie in storage till the kids are older.



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Ballistic Chute


Incidences like this one brings me back down to earth and makes me think of my young family and weighing up "will I fly or not" as I got into aviation well before marriage and kids. For the sake of another 5-6 grand which is bloody cheap insurance; I wonder if a chute could have made the difference here? A bit hard to say but I would lay odds on it someone would have seen it deployed and maybe the lifeguard could have been a little closer to aid assistance at the time of impact? We will never know.


I am really thinking hard about my choice to fly and having a $60,000 aircraft sitting in its hanger just below my house.


I dont think there is an easy answer to anything that we freely chose to do with our lives or the destiny that awaits us all! Who's got that darn crystal ball?


TERRY, I could not have said it better myself!





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Guys - 2 people have lost their lives in a terrible accident. I know you are all horrified and we feel a common loss as fliers - but


speculating on an open forum such as this is not fair to the manufacturer of the aircraft nor is is fair to those family members who have lost a loved one.


Leave the investigation to those who have the facts, knowledge and expertise - when the official finding is published - then I think we have the right to discuss what happened, on line.


I know it is easy to talk from the "heart" and we all feel that this could have been one of us. I love to fly, I have no intention of leaving this planet early, but if you live your life with restrictions, just in case, then are we really living. Look at the road toll - who amongst us has given up driving their car?


My sympathy to the families. - Fly safe.





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While this is a very sad event, its probably worth remembering that flying is still safer than driving, and especially so if you do it in a safe and professional manner. Most likely a freaky event here like a canopy so who knows.


Unfortunately ATSB are not likely to investigate this. Unlike the UK or the USA a private flight and an experimental a/c is not likely to get priority.





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Guest Fred Bear

J430, I think the ATSB need to investigate any GA registered crash, experimental or not. Anyway, I agree with bigpete and J430 too, we can't give up doing what we love because these types of accidents. What we can do is to be careful. A thorough pre-flight both outside the aircraft and inside once you are strapped in. I have seen someone take off in a Glassair that has forgotten to secure the canopy. They came back (minus a few maps) and did it. Checks should involve canopy and harnesses, fuel and everything else you must check before rolling down that runway. I'm not saying this directly about the above accident, just in general.



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speculating on an open forum such as this is not fair to the manufacturer of the aircraft nor is is fair to those family members who have lost a loved one.

Hey BigPete, i didn't intend to be insensitive to anyone by asking if anyone could speculate on a particular facet of the accident. But whats the point of having a forum that promotes saftey and awareness for pilots and the alike and then gag any topic that is deemed sensitive?


Those that have meerly speculated already to possible scenarios might simply be way off the mark. But some of the responses have at the very least highlighted simple things that can become serious issues that every pilot should be aware of. If only to make us as pilot think and not become complacent.


The nature of our passion to fly comes with associated risk. And i would think that as a responsible community we should at the very least should try to learn from such incidents. Every accident concerning light aircraft is always going to be sensitive to us because this is a relatvely small community.


Again my appologies.





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