LifeFlight crew winches two survivors after plane plunges into ocean

The Sunshine Coast-based RACQ LifeFlight Rescue helicopter crew plucked two men from the ocean this morning after the light plane they were in ditched into the sea off the Sunshine Coast.

The aeromedical rescue helicopter was tasked by the Australian Maritine Safety Authority (AMSA) to the crash site, about 35 nautical miles off the Mooloolaba coast just after 9am.

The chopper crew first spotted the Cessna’s tail, then saw two men floating close by; one inside a small life raft, which was starting to sink; and the other clinging onto the edge of it.

They gave a thumbs up to the LifeFlight crew as they approached to indicate they were okay.

RACQ LifeFlight Rescue Aircrew Officer Dan King winched the rescue basket down and bought the men, both aged in their 50s, up into the helicopter one at a time.

They were safely inside the helicopter within minutes of it arriving at the scene.

RACQ LifeFlight Rescue helicopter pilot Andrew Caton said it was crucial to locate ocean incidents as soon as possible, before they turn into a much wider and more challenging search.

“We were able to launch in a short period of time this morning,” Andrew Caton said. 

“Our response was so fast that we reached the crash site within minutes of them ditching, before their aircraft had disappeared completely under water. We could still see part of the wreckage. It made them easier to locate and rescue safely.”

“Certainly, training and experience all come into being successfully piece together a complex rescue mission like this one.”

Aircrew Officer Dan King said it was incredible to see both men were okay.

“It’s not every day that you are tasked to a light plane that has confirmed it was going to ditch,” Dan said.

“We knew we were going to a plane that had ditched into the ocean, but we had no idea what to expect, fortunately as we approached, we could see the men and the life raft.”

The plane had left Sunshine Coast Airport and was bound for Atlanta, with numerous planned stops on the way.

It is believed the Cessna 421C began having engine problems.

The pilot turned the aircraft around but when he realised they weren’t going to make it back to land, he started to dump fuel and made a call for help just minutes before ditching.

A Royal Flying Doctor Service fixed wing aircraft was nearby and shadowed the stricken Cessna, keeping authorities informed as the plane went down and the rescue chopper responded.

The men were airlifted to Sunshine Coast University Hospital, under the care of the Queensland Ambulance Service Flight Paramedic, for assessment but reportedly had no major injuries.