Sydney seaplane crash: Aircraft had been ‘destroyed in accident in 1996’

The aircraft, which was first registered in 1964, was used as a crop duster in 1996 when it crashed into a hill killing the pilot, a government report showed.

Millionaire company boss Richard Cousins, 58, and his magazine editor fiancee Emma Bowden, 48, who organised the dream trip were killed in the New Year’s Eve tragedy.

Mr Cousins’ sons William, 25, and Edward, 23, also died along with Ms Bowden’s 11-year-old daughter Heather and Canadian-born pilot Gareth Morgan, 44.

The group had been flying back to Sydney harbour in the single-engine De Havilland DHC-2 Beaver aircraft after enjoying lunch at an exclusive waterside restaurant.

An investigation is underway to establish the cause of the disaster and now it has emerged the aircraft had been rebuilt after crashing in Kotupna, New South Wales, on November 15 1996. 

Under “damage to aircraft” investigators said it had been carrying a full load of fuel during the first crash and was classified as ”destroyed”.

The aircraft was beginning to dump a tonne of superphosphate before it crashed.

It is believed to have been owned by several other businesses before being acquired by Sydney Seaplanes.

Nat Nagy, executive director of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, said: ”I am aware of a previous incident with this aircraft.

“There were a number of factors involved in that incident and that will be something we look at. 

“It’s a matter of course and routine in any investigation to look at the individual aircraft history and any other incidents that may be relevant.” 

The revelation came after the plane was lifted out of the Hawkesbury River by a crane barge.

The crash happened after the aircraft apparently nose-dived into the water around 25 miles north of Sydney during the £1,500 flight.

The ATSB said the seaplane had “sunk rapidly” after impact. 

Police divers recovered six bodies from the scene on New Year’s Eve. 

Friends and colleagues described Mr Cousins as a “well-known and respected” businessman who helped transform the fortunes of FTSE 100 company Compass Group after becoming the catering firm’s boss in 2006.

Ms Bowden, a former arts editor at OK! Magazine, was described as the “Grace Kelly” of their office by Lisa Byrne, its ex-editor-in-chief.

The couple, from Tooting, south west London, were due to marry in July and wedding guests had received their invitations just days before the tragedy. 

Mr Cousins’ son Will was head of press for pro-European Union campaign group Open Britain, and was described by the group’s chairman, Roland Rudd, as an “extraordinary young man” who would be “missed beyond words”. 

In a statement Mr Cousins’ brothers, Simon and Andrew, said they had been “deeply touched” by tributes to the family.

They added: “We are fortunate and thankful for the outpouring of love and support we’ve received from across the world. 

“We have now arrived in Australia and, as the investigation continues, we would like to take this opportunity to thank all those involved for their dedication and commitment, in particular the Sydney Water Police and those members of the public who helped on the day of the accident.”