AVIATION has had a tragic few months in the Hunter.
Two aboard a helicopter earlier in November had a lucky escape after they made a forced landing near Tilligerry Creek. The pair were taken to hospital with minor injuries after the incident.
The Anna Bay helicopter crash shocked the nation when it killed Queensland men Jamie Ogden and Grant Kuhnemann, married Sydney couple Jocelyn Villanueva and Gregory Miller, and the chopper's pilot and owner David Kerr on September 6.
Another two men died on Saturday after a microlight aircraft crashed at Woodville, where the vehicles have been a relatively common sight over the rolling paddocks for many years.
All of those who take to the skies know, on some level, that the activity carries a degree of heightened risk should something go wrong. That is why such rigorous safety standards are observed and required; to prevent as far as possible all those tragedies that it is within pilots' power to avoid.
It is too early to fully know the circumstances that led to these two men's deaths at the weekend. Police continue to investigate with the assistance of the Sporting Aviation Federation of Australia.
In the case of the Anna Bay tragedy, a preliminary report has detailed the final moments of that flight through inclement weather. The relatively banal lead-up to the tragic outcome makes for heartbreaking reading. The preliminary report details routine chatter between pilot and chopper owner David Kerr with the air traffic control tower at Williamtown from 6pm. Five minutes later, Mr Kerr said a "sudden wind gust affecting the helicopter's altitude" led the helicopter to drop almost 1000 feet. Attempts to contact the aircraft after 6.11pm, when it began to turn offshore for less than two minutes before a "rapidly descending left turn" went unanswered.
Those interim findings led to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau running a safety campaign entitled "Don't push it, don't go - know your limits before flight' in early November.
"Weather and low visibility-related accidents often have fatal outcomes, which is all the more tragic because they are almost always avoidable," ATSB executive director transport safety Nat Nagy said.
As the summer season approaches and recreational activities ramp up, these incidents offer a reminder that even pursuits we love carried out with the closest attention can have fatal consequences. Given Surf Life Saving NSW late last week revealed that coastal drowning figures had risen in 2019 to their highest level in several years, it is timely to remember that exhilaration is less important than preservation.
Even the best laid plans by the most experienced operators can end in tragedy, loss or unexpected outcomes. As summer ramps up, the region will be hopeful that no more families suffer.