The family of the pilot of a helicopter that crashed in regional Victoria yesterday says the wellbeing and safety of his passengers was always his highest priority.
Dean Neal was flying the Microflite helicopter that crashed yesterday near Mt Disappointment, north of Melbourne, killing him and his four passengers.
The 32-year-old’s parents Rodney and Janeece, along with his brother Darren, today released a statement saying they are “inexplicably shocked and distressed by the loss of our dear son and brother”.
“Dean has always been the most conscientious of professional pilots and always put the safety and wellbeing of his passengers in the highest of his priorities during his many years of professional service,” the family said.
“Our broken hearts go to the families and friends of those who were flying with him.
“Your unspeakable loss is understood by us all.
“We know Dean would have done anything in his power to deliver his passengers safely to their destination.
“The family will not be making any further statement and ask that we be left to grieve the loss of our Dean, who was a remarkable son, brother, friend and pilot.”
Passenger was on ‘last job’ before retirement
Earlier, a leader in the meat industry who was on his “last job” before retirement was identified as being among the crash victims.
Paul Troja, 73, was among the five people who died when a chartered helicopter crashed on Mt Disappointment yesterday.
Mr Troja’s son revealed to 9News his father was on the flight to set his family up financially before shifting his focus to his loved ones and home life.
“He wanted to spend more time with the family, but he wanted to do one last job to get a bit more money behind him, so he could help us out,” Luke Troja said.
“This was going to be it, and he was going to give it away.”
Luke Troja said his father had been the “rock” of the family.
“He saw the value in everyone. People he worked with really trusted him,” he said.
“He was very loved and he was very treasured by his family.”
The Albert Park man was the chairman of Radfords, and served as a non-executive director of national body Meat and Livestock Australia from 2003-2009.
Paul Troja had four children and five grandchildren, the youngest of whom was born just two days ago.
Also on board was tech entrepreneur Linda Woodford, who founded Melbourne-based AXIchain.
The 50-year-old ‘s brother told 9News the family is distraught and they have “never felt emotional pain like this”.
He said she was “transforming the entire meat industry process”.
Investigation into crash underway
Investigators from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) investigators have now arrived at the crash side to collect evidence.
“This is the fifth fatal aviation accident this year in Australia and, tragically, nine people have lost their lives across these accidents,” ATSB Chief Commissioner Angus Mitchell said this afternoon.
He said over the coming days investigators will survey the site with a drone, examine scarring to determine how the aircraft impacted the terrain the retrieve any relevant parts of the aircraft.
A preliminary report will be prepared in the next six to eight weeks, and the ATSB will not make any further statements until that is released.
“The ATSB extends our condolences to the loved ones, friends and colleagues of those lost in this accident. On behalf of the ATSB I would also like to thank AMSA, the Victorian Police, the SES and other first responders for their excellent work finding, securing, and providing access to this difficult site,” Mr Mitchell said.
Earlier, Mr Mitchell said Microflite had a “very strong” safety record.
“We certainly will be working with the operator and equally with maintainers who maintain the helicopter as well,” he said.
He said it was too early to speculate yet on what may have caused the crash.
The helicopter had been headed to Ulupna in Victoria’s north.
“It’s believed the chartered helicopter had taken off from Moorabbin Airport before picking up passengers in Batman Park, Melbourne about 7am,” Victoria Police said.
The helicopter was one of two travelling north in convoy from Melbourne’s CBD over when it disappeared just after 9.30am, according to Victoria Police.
Both Microflite Helicopter Services aircraft took off from the banks of the Yarra River in Melbourne CBD near Crown just before 8am.
The wreckage was found near Blair’s Hut at about 11.45am.
The second helicopter landed without incident at Moorabbin Airport in Melbourne’s south-east, after raising the alarm.
Microflite Helicopter Services’ executive general manager Rodney Higgins said the private charter flight that crashed was being flown by a highly respected pilot.
Police said the cause of the crash was still unknown.
However, experts have this morning suggested low-flying cloud and poor visibility could be to blame, with the chopper itself cited as a highly reliable model.
Microflite has grounded all its flights until Tuesday.
Mr Higgins said the company would cooperate with extensive investigations into what had occurred.
“I extend my deepest condolences to all affected by this incident,” he said.