SYDNEY • Two people have died after a light plane nosedived into a river in front of thousands of horrified spectators at an air show in Western Australia, missing nearby boats and crowds.
Footage shared on social media showed the Grumman G-73 Mallard seaplane flying above the Swan River in Perth on Thursday afternoon as part of Australia Day celebrations before it went down, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.
Western Australia Police said that the "very experienced" pilot, Mr Peter Lynch, 52, and his Indonesian-born passenger and partner, Ms Endah Cakrawati, 30, died in the crash.
"Thank God it went down in the water where it went down - that was one of my first thoughts," the Acting Commissioner of Police, Mr Stephen Brown, told reporters in Perth yesterday.
"There's... very clear waterway, that was the clear waterway that Peter was flying over and not too far away on the foreshore are thousands of people.
PILOT FOUGHT FOR CONTROL
You could hear it was in trouble. I could hear the motor surging, and then you could hear him putting it back into full thrust, and then, next minute, the wing hit the water and then the back end went straight up and the front end went straight down.
MR MICHAEL LEGG, who witnessed the plane crash from the riverbank while out celebrating the holiday with his family.
"And farther to the west was quite a large group of members of the public on their boats."
The Swan River runs through the city of Perth and the seaplane was taking part in an air show ahead of a fireworks display, which had been expected to attract more than 300,000 spectators. Both events were cancelled after the incident.
Mr Ray Johnston was sitting close to the water's edge when he heard the sound of the plane's engines "roaring really loudly".
"It didn't sound right, and when I looked I saw the plane nosediving towards the water," Mr Johnston told The West Australian.
"When I saw the plane it was about three metres from the water and then it hit the water and seemed to split in two. I saw it sink and nothing surfaced."
Mr Michael Legg was on the riverbank, watching the boats while waiting for his children to finish on nearby rides, when he saw the seaplane.
He captured a photograph of the plane just before impact, The Australian reported.
"You could hear it was in trouble. I could hear the motor surging, and then you could hear him putting it back into full thrust, and then, next minute, the wing hit the water and then the back end went straight up and the front end went straight down," said Mr Legg.
"My heart completely sank."
Mr Brown said that investigators did not know yet why the crash occurred.
"We need to know the facts and precisely what happened and why, so we can fix it, if it needs fixing into the future. It may just be a tragic accident," he was quoted by AFP as saying.
He added that Indonesian police were notifying Ms Cakrawati's family of her death.
WA Today reported that Mr Lynch, a father of three, had recently moved to Perth from Brisbane to take on the role of business development director at mining giant Fortescue Metals Group.
Ms Cakrawati worked with Mr Lynch as an investor relations manager at Cokal, a coal mining company he founded in 2009.
Six months ago - around the time that Mr Lynch moved to Perth - Ms Cakrawati wrote on her Facebook page that "I have a great life, great friends and great love... just perfect", according to WA Today.
Friends in Indonesia have paid tribute to Ms Cakrawati, whose photos on social media show her going out with friends, playing the guitar and modelling.