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Pilot in Deadly Crash Tested Positive for Cocaine, Couple Killed

A tragic helicopter crash on Australia’s Gold Coast claimed the lives of Ron and Dianne Hughes from Merseyside as well as Sydney mother Vanessa Tadros and pilot Ashley Jenkinson last January 2nd has raised concerns regarding aviation safety protocols as well as drug testing protocols. ATSB reported that Jenkinson had cocaine present during this incident. The tragedy raised serious issues surrounding aviation safety as well as drug testing protocols in general.

Who Was Involved in the Crash?

A helicopter crash on September 12 involved two sightseeing helicopters piloted by Ashley Jenkinson of Sea World Helicopters and Michael James of his colleague company – Michael James was responsible for its drug and alcohol management plan – Jenkinson had extensive aviation experience dating back to childhood in Britain before migrating with his family to Australia as an adult, accruing 47.7 flight hours prior to this accident.

Ron and Dianne Hughes of Neston were traveling back home after recovering from pandemic illness for the first time, taking Vanessa Tadros with them as passengers in Jenkinson’s helicopter piloted by Mr. James; Ron was well known and revered in Neston where Concept Interiors operated under his management. Both helicopters, operated by both pilots, brought six passengers who survived with minor injuries despite initial fear.

What Did the ATSB Report Find?

The ATSB report determined that Jenkinson used cocaine “within days prior to his crash”, although not likely within 24 hours prior to his death. Although Jenkinson may not have experienced direct effects from taking these drugs before flying his aircraft into a collision site, post-cocaine exposure side-effects such as fatigue, depression or inattention could have affected his flying performance and lead to catastrophic results.

Reports revealed that Mr. James agreed to tests for alcohol and drugs but none was conducted. As part of its investigations into what occurred on June 11, 2016, interviews, examination of both helicopters, seat belt fitment review, radar flight tracking information review were all carried out as part of this endeavor.

Remembering the Victims

Community members have honored and remembered both victims fondly. Family and friends remembered them fondly; Faye Hughes continued running Concept Interiors after her parents had passed.

Vanessa Tadros was another victim of the crash who has been remembered with great fondness by her community and families of both victims. They have expressed their thanks and appreciation to first responders, emergency services providers, Sea World staff members, as well as friends, family, and members of Gold Coast community members for all they did afterward to ease suffering and offer comfort to grieving families.

What Are the Next Steps?

The final report by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), detailing analysis, findings and any recommended safety actions is scheduled to be issued during the third quarter of 2024. According to Chief Commissioner Angus Mitchell, their responsibility includes making findings that lead to reduction of similar events occurring again in future.

This incident raises serious concerns over drug and alcohol management plans in aviation. The forthcoming final report from ATSB should provide further insights and may even result in changes to safety protocols and regulations within aviation.

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Jack Reuben Fletcher

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