Pilot fights for life: Noosa ultralight crash disaster
A MAN is fighting for life after his ultralight aircraft plummeted into the ocean at Noosa Main Beach.
Horrified witnesses have told how the 57-year-old pilot and his trike ultralight aircraft plunged 200 metres, nose-first into the ocean early yesterday.
The Sunshine Coast man was last night fighting for his life in intensive care at the Royal Brisbane Hospital after slamming into the ocean in what was described by onlookers as a "free fall".
His name had not been released.
He reportedly took off from an airstrip at Teewah with a friend - who was in a second ultralight flying nearby - before he came down about 7am.
Witnesses have given conflicting reports of what went wrong a short time later over Noosa Main Beach.
Some said the pilot lost control when he attempted a manoeuvre while others reported what looked like mechanical failure before the aircraft went into a free fall, spun upside down and crashed nose-first into the water.
Eyewitness Simon Duffin told the Daily he was eating breakfast on the beach when he heard an aircraft engine roaring.
He looked up to see the light aircraft travelling upside down as it spiralled into the water.
"When I heard the engine roaring the way it was I turned my head," Mr Duffin said.
"I looked down at the river mouth and here's this thing at 100 feet (30 metres) vertical in a tight corkscrew dive.
"He managed to level it out and I realised he was upside; inverted and he tried to go in to a dive to level himself out but he's just gone straight into the water."
Mr Duffin said the crash sent a plume of water 50 metres into the air.
He called police before running up the beach to the Noosa Lifeguard tower.
"When we heard the ambulance and sirens and helicopter arrive, we knew something was wrong; we knew it was a person who had crashed into the ocean," she said.
"It was a free fall; we hope he's okay."
Lifesavers immediately launched an IRB and went to the man's rescue.
Surf Life Saving Queensland duty officer Guy Tanner said the pilot was unconscious but floating on his back just metres from the wreckage when they reached him.
Lifesavers initially feared a second or even third passenger was in the water.
"He wasn't wearing a flotation device but he had a waterproof coat on that looked like it had just enough air in it to enable him to float," Mr Tanner said.
"He wasn't attached to his aircraft but he still had his helmet on and his jacket had just enough air in it to allow him to lie face up, instead of face down.
"He was unconscious the whole time, but breathing."
A Queensland Ambulance Service spokeswoman said he had suffered head, chest and abdominal injuries.
Emergency services and lifesavers cleared the usually busy Noosa Main Beach and the RACQ CareFlight Helicopter landed to take the man to the Royal Brisbane Hospital.
The cause of the crash is under investigation, with the Hang Gliding Federation of Australia working with Sunshine Coast Forensic Crash Unit.
The federation could not be reached for comment.
The wreckage was deliberately sunk just beyond the shark nets so it didn't get washed away.
Officers from the Water Police kept a watch on the area.
"The wreckage is quite big, with a wingspan of about nine metres. We were never going to get it over the bar, especially with low tide," Mr Milland said.
"We have sunk it not far from the shark nets and
Water Police are out there patrolling to make sure no one touches it.
"They are in charge as we need to maintain the integrity of the wreck because this will need to be investigated."
Late yesterday, a tow truck was used to drag the wreckage ashore. It was taken away for inspection.
Senior Sergeant Scott Nolan said while there were already many witnesses to the crash, he encouraged anyone else who saw it to phone Crime Stoppers.
"We will examine the aircraft to see if there is any obvious mechanical fault and interview witnesses as well as working with experts in the field to determine what happened," he said.
WHAT IS AN ULTRALIGHT AND WHY DID IT CRASH AT NOOSA?
THE ultralight aircraft which plummeted 200m into the ocean at Noosa was a trike ultralight.
But what precisely was this aircraft?
The Hang Gliding Federation of Australia said the earlier versions of the ultralights were basically hang gliders with engines, but looked more like aeroplanes with a body and conventional tail.
Trikes are no longer just converted hang gliders, but are designed specifically for power.
The federation's website states the performance of modern trikes compares favourably with conventional ultralights.
"Cruise speeds range from 60 to 110kmh, and trikes have among the best climb rates of all ultralights," the website states.
"Partial enclosures (pods) keep the worst of the wind and cold away.
"In Europe, the trike remains the most common and popular form of ultralight, although it is slightly less popular in Australia."
"They can stored in your garage and still have room for the car, be assembled or dismantled within half an hour and are easily transported on a trailer.
"Once flying, you can do anything or go anywhere a conventional registered ultralight can."
Trikes are not certified for aerobatics.
Loops are not sanctioned by any manufacturer.
"A failed loop which results in the trike stalling upside down will invariably result in a very high descent rate," the website stated.
The Sunshine Coast Forensic Crash Unit and the Hang Gliding Federation of Australia are investigating the crash.