CANBERRA, Australia — A seaplane that crashed north of Sydney this week, killing the Canadian pilot and his five British passengers, had another fatal crash more than 20 years ago, an investigator said Thursday.
The de Havilland Beaver, manufactured in 1963 and owned by tourism business Sydney Seaplanes, crashed into the Hawkesbury River on Sunday after the group went to a New Year’s Eve lunch.
The plane had previously been a crop duster that in 1996 clipped a hillside with a wing and cartwheeled northwest of Sydney, killing the pilot.
Killed in Sunday’s crash were Compass Group chief executive Richard Cousins, 58, his fiancee Emma Bowden, 48, her 11-year-old daughter Heather Bowden-Page and his two sons William, 25, and Edward, 23, along with experienced pilot Gareth Morgan, 44.
Australian Transport Safety Bureau executive director Nat Nagy said the accident investigation team would examine the circumstances of the 1996 crash.
“There were a number of factors involved in that incident and that will be something we look at,” Nagy told reporters. He noted it was routine in any investigation to look at the history of an individual aircraft and the history of the aircraft’s type.
The 1996 accident investigation report found that the pilot likely stalled the plane, which was laden with a full tank of fuel and around a ton of fertilizer in turbulent wind conditions.
Peter Gibson, spokesman for the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, the Australian industry regulator, described a single plane having two fatal crashes as “unusual,” although he could say if it was unprecedented.
Gibson questioned the investigation bureau’s conclusion that the plane had been “destroyed” in the 1996 crash.
“It certainly was not destroyed. Clearly from the description of the repairs, wings were not falling off and that sort of stuff,” Gibson said.
An engineer had assessed the plane as reparable after the first crash, it was rebuilt to the manufacturer’s specifications and was cleared to fly again within months, Gibson said.
“All the appropriate, normal steps were followed. We’ve checked the paperwork for the whole process and there certainly doesn’t appear to be anything untoward,” Gibson said.
The regulator verified Sydney Seaplanes’ statement that it replaced its aircraft engines after every 1,100 flying hours — 100 hours sooner than the industry standard, Gibson said. The engine of the plane that crashed on Sunday had flown for around 200 hours.
Geoff Dell, discipline leader of accident investigation at Central Queensland University and a former Australian airline safety manager, said planes could fly again safely after a crash.
“If it’s done properly and they haven’t missed anything, then it’s not an issue,” Dell said. “The challenge is that you miss something.”
Some aviation experts suspect the cause of the recent crash was an engine stall.
The Transport Safety Board of Canada last year recommended that Canada make stall warning systems compulsory for Beaver planes after six people died during a sightseeing flight over Quebec in 2015.
Gibson said the Australian plane had not been equipped with such a stall warning device.
A crane lifted most of the plane from the riverbed on Thursday and the wreckage will be examined for clues.
A former lawmaker in British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government in the 1980s, Gerry Bowden, said in a statement his family was devastated by the loss of his daughter and granddaughter.