Sydney seaplane: UK businessman and family named as victims

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BY BBC NEWS,1ST JAN,2018-The chief executive of catering giant Compass Group has died in a New Year’s Eve seaplane crash near Sydney, alongside his two sons, fiancée and her daughter, his firm has said.

Richard Cousins, 58, from London, died after the plane plunged into a river 30 miles (50km) north of Sydney.

He died alongside Emma Bowden, 48, her 11-year-old daughter Heather, and his sons, William, 25, and Edward, 23, police have said.

The Australian pilot was also killed.

Police in Australia have named the pilot as Gareth Morgan, 44.

All six died after the seaplane – which belonged to a firm running sightseeing tours – came down in the Hawkesbury River, near the suburb of Cowan.

The crash happened at about 15:10 local time (04:10 GMT) on Sunday, New South Wales Police said.

The family, from Tooting in south-west London, are believed to have been flying back to Sydney from an exclusive waterfront restaurant in Jerusalem Bay on New Year’s Eve, BBC correspondent Phil Mercer said.

Mr Cousins was chief executive of the Surrey-based, FTSE 100 firm Compass Group – thought to be the largest food service company in the world – since 2006.

He was due to leave his role in March and retire from the group in September.

‘Tragic accident’

Paul Walsh, Compass chairman, said the firm was “deeply shocked and saddened” by his death.

“The thoughts of everyone at Compass are with Richard’s family and friends, and we extend our deepest sympathies to them,” he said.

“It has been a great privilege to know Richard personally and to work with him for the last few years.

“Richard was known and respected for his great humanity and a no-nonsense style that transformed Compass into one of Britain’s leading companies.”

 

Investigators are trying to establish the sequence of events that led to the accident
Image caption Investigators are trying to establish the sequence of events that led to the accident
The crash involved a single-engine DHC-2 Beaver Seaplane

His son, William Cousins, was head of press for Open Britain, which campaigns against a hard Brexit.

The group’s chairman Roland Rudd said he was “an extraordinary young man who took deep pride in his work” and would be “missed beyond words”.

Detective Superintendent Mark Hutchings, head of the New South Wales marine area command, said: “These people had come over on holiday to one of the most beautiful parts of the world, and for this to happen at a place like this is just tragic.”

Plane ‘sunk rapidly’

Eyewitnesses said the aircraft turned sharply to the right shortly after taking off, before crashing.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) said the plane “sunk rapidly” after crashing into the river.

Police divers were flown to the scene and all six bodies were recovered on Sunday evening.

“The sequence of events leading up to the accident are not yet understood,” the ATSB said.

The BBC’s Phil Mercer said investigators needed to retrieve the plane’s wreckage to begin the slow and painstaking job of establishing how a routine scenic flight ended in disaster.

He said eyewitness accounts would form part of the investigation, which could take many months.

One man told a radio station how he had watched from a houseboat as the seaplane nosedived into the water, our correspondent said.

He said he had dived in and tried unsuccessfully to open the fuselage door because the plane was sinking so quickly.

The single-engine aircraft belonged to sightseeing flight company Sydney Seaplanes, which offers scenic flights over local tourist attractions.

Aaron Shaw, chief executive of the firm, described Mr Morgan, the pilot, as a “gentle guy”.

“Ringing his parents today was one of the worst calls I’ve had to make in my life,” he said.

He added that all flights had been suspended and the cause of the accident was not yet known.

The UK Foreign Office said consular officials were in contact with local authorities and staff were “ready to provide consular assistance”.

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