2 Coloradans injured in helicopter crash on Great Barrier Reef; 2 other U.S. tourists killed

BRISBANE, Australia – Two Coloradans survived a harrowing helicopter crash near the Great Barrier Reef, off the northeast coast of Australia, Wednesday.

Two of their loved ones did not.

According to Queensland Police, the Eurocopter EC120, operated by Whitsunday Air Services, crashed into the water near Hardy Reef, 40 miles northeast of Whitsunday Islands, at 3:35 p.m. Australia time.

Four American tourists were on board.

“As a result of the crash, a female, age 65, and a male, age 79, are deceased,” said Inspector Ian Haughton of the Mackay District. “The other three people in the helicopter survived.”

Victims from Hawaii, Colorado

Channel 9 Australia reports that John Hansel, 79, of Hawaii and his new bride, Susan Sutterfield, 65, were on a dream honeymoon and had planned to visit the reef.

Sutterfield was in the front seat of the chopper, while Hansel, Sutterfield’s 33-year old daughter, and her 34-year old partner, both from Colorado, were in the back.

Haughton said tourist choppers normally land on one of the smaller pontoons, and that passengers are then ferried to a larger pontoon, which has underwater viewing chambers to see corals, and can be used as a base for snorkeling around the reef.

“It was a normal flight operated by the operator to the reef,” he said. “On this occasion, something went wrong.”

He said onlookers made their way to scene and rendered assistance, performing CPR.

They were unable to resuscitate Hansel or Sutterfield.

Robust Investigation

Haughton said a “transparent and robust” investigation is now underway, and that they’ll try to determine if wind was a factor.

“The idea of that investigation is to determine all aspects of the mechanical servicing of that helicopter, what happened at the scene that might have been a contributing factor, any possibility of error.”

Haughton said the pilot was hurt in the crash, but his injuries were “not life-threatening.”

Company Reaction

Brad Graves, the CEO of Whitsunday Air Services, issued a statement saying in part: “The entire Whitsunday Air Services team are devastated by this accident and our thoughts and condolences are with the passengers and their families.”

Aircraft Recovery

Police said they will continue to assist the Australian Transport Safety Bureau with the investigation and recovery of the aircraft, which sank shortly after the crash.

The Hardy Reef, which is part of the Great Barrier Reef, is a very popular destination for divers.