Compass CEO Cousins' Plane-Crash Death Probed in Australia

(Bloomberg) -- Investigators are piecing together the final moments of a Sydney seaplane flight that plunged into the water on New Year’s Eve, killing Compass Group Plc Chief Executive Officer Richard Cousins and four members of his close family.

Recovery teams plan to raise the plane from the bottom of the Hawkesbury River this week, Australian Transport Safety Bureau Executive Director Nat Nagy said at a media briefing on Tuesday.

Compass CEO Cousins' Plane-Crash Death Probed in Australia

Dominic Blakemore, formerly Compass’s chief operating officer for Europe, has taken over from Cousins, bringing forward a planned April 1 handover, the Chertsey, England-based company said in a statement. Cousins was due to step down as CEO of the world’s largest caterer on March 31.

Compass gained roughly 500 percent during Cousins’ 11 years at the helm as he streamlined the formerly unwieldy company and pursued growth from blue-chip customers like Google, rather than mergers and acquisitions. The shares were down 0.5 percent early Tuesday in London, giving Compass a market value of about 25 billion pounds ($34 billion).

Weekend Crash

Cousins, 58, died along with sons William, 25, and Edward, 23, his fiancee Emma Bowden, 48, and her 11-year-old daughter, Heather, in the weekend crash. Six bodies, including the pilot, have been recovered, according to New South Wales police.

In another crash involving a small aircraft, Bridgewater Associates executive Bruce Steinberg and his family died on Sunday when a charter plane crashed into a mountain in Costa Rica.

Total SA CEO Christophe de Margerie died in October 2014 when his jet struck a snowplow on a Moscow runway. The entire board of Australian mining company Sundance Resources Ltd. perished in June 2010 when their plane crashed into dense jungle in the Republic of Congo.

In the crash that killed Cousins, officials believe the single-engine aircraft took a right turn before nosediving into the water at Cowan Creek, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) north of Sydney, shortly after 3 p.m. on Sunday. The DHC-2 Beaver Seaplane, built in 1963 and operated by Sydney Seaplanes, then sank quickly. The plane is largely intact and is lying inverted on the river bed, Nagy said.

Compass CEO Cousins' Plane-Crash Death Probed in Australia

The crash site is at the center of a vast expanse of unspoiled national park peppered with sheltered inlets at the mouth of the Hawkesbury River. Cousins and his family had taken a sightseeing flight from Sydney and had eaten at a restaurant on the banks of the river. They were on the return leg when the plane crashed.

Investigators are devising a plan to raise the plane from the water using air bags, cranes, or a combination of the two, Nagy said. Then data-retrieval experts will analyze the aircraft’s instruments as well as passengers’ phones, tablets and video cameras for clues, he said.

“Once we’ve done that, we’re able to put a picture together of what’s happened,” Nagy said.

Sydney Seaplanes, which has been in operation since 2005, said it had a clear safety record until the Dec. 31 incident. It has suspended all operations.

Restored Seaplanes

The 44-year-old pilot, Gareth Morgan, was “extremely experienced,” the company said. He had more than 10,000 hours of flying time, about 9,000 of that on seaplanes. Morgan had flown Sydney Seaplanes Managing Director Aaron Shaw and his family to a beach not far from the crash site just before Christmas, the company said in a statement.

The DHC-2 Beaver first flew in 1947 and production ceased about 40 years ago. The models operated by Sydney Seaplanes were restored and could seat seven passengers and one pilot, the company said. The planes are “professionally maintained to manufacturer’s specifications,” it said.

It’s not unusual for decades-old planes to still be operating, ATSB’s Nagy said.

“We don’t have any systemic evidence that there’s any reliability issues with the aircraft,” he said.

The ATSB will submit a preliminary report into the accident in 30 days. 

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