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Moving tribute for 'first-class pilot' killed in horror chopper crash



"We have lost a first-class pilot, a first-class man and a wonderful father, partner and friend."

That is the tribute from director and owner of Sea World Helicopters John Orr-Campbell to the pilot killed in the horror Gold Coast crash which also claimed the lives of three others.

Ash Jenkinson, 40, was the pilot of one of the helicopters which collided with another chopper, snapping off its rotor blade and plummeting from the air on Tuesday afternoon at the Gold Coast Broadwater.

READ MORE: Heartbreaking final photo moments before deadly helicopter flight

Orr-Campbell said Jenkinson was an experienced pilot and was well-known to many in the aviation industry, including himself with their friendship spanning over nine years.

"To lose a man and pilot of Ash's calibre is shocking in every sense of the word," he said.

"I along with all the staff at Sea World Helicopters are gutted to the core."

Orr-Campbell also paid tribute to the passengers killed in the crash, Sydney woman Vanessa Tadros and British nationals Ron and Diane Hughes.

"We also mourn the loss of his passengers and cannot imagine the terrible sadness their families and loved one must be feeling," Orr-Campbell said.

READ MORE: Rotor blade on crashed helicopter torn off in Gold Coast collision

Jenkinson has more than 6210 hours of flying to his name and performed his first flight in 2007, which sparked a love of the air.

"His love for flying took him to the Northern Territory where he ran scenic flights until the end of September 2011," Orr-Campbell said.

The love of flying combined with his "professional, bright, warm and welcoming personality" saw him quickly rise through the ranks becoming Northern Territory Base Manager, training fellow pilots, working with traditional land owners, and firefighting operations.

"Ash showed his love and commitment to community – he was involved in multiple search and rescue flights in the area," Orr-Campbell said.

After travelling across Australia, Orr-Campbell said, Jenkinson found his home as chief pilot of Sea World Helicopters in 2019 – overseeing all aspects of safety and flight operations – where three years later his lost his life.

"RIP Ash, you will forever be in our hearts," Orr-Campbell said.

The survivors, Winnie De Silva and her nine-year-old son Leon, as well as Tadros' son Nicholas, remain in hospital.

READ MORE: Deadly Gold Coast chopper crash brought parkland to standstill, witness says

The 52-year-old Queensland pilot of the other helicopter, Michael James, managed to land safely on the sandbar and all six passengers onboard escaped major injury.

Orr-Campbell commended James' efforts to "heroically" land the helicopter after the crash and wished him well in his recovery.

Also on board the second helicopter were two New Zealand couples who said the fun five-minute joy ride turned into a nightmare and their "hearts are so heavy" for those who lost their lives.

The tragic crash is continuing to have reverberations around the Gold Coast community as residents come to terms with the shocking event.

Hundreds of bouquets of flowers have been laid at the crash site as family and friends make effusive tributes to those who lost their lives and were injured.

Gold Coast resident Ron Drevlak shared what happened in the moments after disaster struck when he saw the helicopters collide and rushed to help.

"I could see the passengers still strapped into their seats – there was a lot of shouting, a lot of noise, a lot of heat and the smell of aviation fuel was really overwhelming," Drevlak told Today.

Drevlak rushed to help passengers, freeing some before emergency services arrived.

READ MORE: Race against the tide to retrieve chopper wreckage after deadly Gold Coast crash

The accident now remains a raw memory in his mind.

"Particularly the point where the chopper came apart and hit the ground," he said.

"That noise, every time I lay down to sleep, it just keeps playing over and over in my head – it's not a pleasant thing to see."

Investigators are still trying to figure out what caused the two Sea World Helicopters aircraft to collide

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