A HERO bystander has described how he risked his own life in an underwater battle to save the passengers of the doomed Sydney seaplane crash on New Year's Eve.
Kurt Bratby and his three friends repeatedly dived 2m underwater through fuel and debris to get to the wreckage in a bid to pull the six passengers to safety, reports The Sun.
Accident investigators hope this week to raise the seaplane which crashed into the Hawkesbury River, killing six people, including a high-profile British chief executive.
Richard Cousins, the boss of catering giant Compass, his sons Edward and William, fiancee Emma Bowden and her daughter Heather Bowden-Page, 11, were killed in the accident on the Hawkesbury River north of Sydney on New Year's Eve.
Pilot Gareth Morgan also died.
Australian Transport Safety Bureau executive director Nat Nagy said the investigation would cover the plane's maintenance record as well as its components and any recordings of the flight.
"So that could involve avionics or instruments that are attached to the aeroplane, but also things like mobile phones, iPads, GoPros that we will be able to recover data from," Mr Nagy said, announcing the intention to recover the DHC-2 Beaver Seaplane this week.
A preliminary report is expected in a month.
The sightseeing aircraft, which was heading to Rose Bay in Sydney Harbour, made a sharp turn before plummeting straight into the water in the suburb of Cowan, 50km north of Sydney.
Witnesses on a nearby houseboat told the ABC how they dived into the river, which was covered with aviation fuel, in an attempted rescue.
Three men repeatedly plunged in to try to open the plane's doors as it sank. Unsuccessful, they tied the aircraft's tail to their dinghy but were unable to move it.
"Dead set, they could have died," said Will McGovern of his three friends. "The whole time I was freaking out that this fuel was going to spark. This plane was moving fast, it was going down fast - they could have got sucked in.
"The families of these poor people, they need to know people were there risking their lives trying to help their family members. There was someone there trying to do something."
Todd Sellars told the Daily Telegraph about the desperate attempt to try and save the trapped passengers.
"I couldn't get the doors open because I kept running out of air," he said.
Local resident Kurt Bratby, 27, told how he leapt into action after friends shouted for help when they witnessed the plane hit the water at Cowan Creek.
The real estate agent said: "We were just loading up the houseboat when my friends called out. We got out to the scene in under a minute.
"We didn't think about the dangers. Once the adrenaline kicked in we were just thinking about the people we could save.
"We jumped in, swam over to the plane and dived down to get to the door; we had no luck because of all the fuel. I saw one window, but I couldn't see inside.
"We just kept trying but it was too deep and we had to get out. After that we got a rope and tried to lasso it over the plane with no success."
Kurt added: "In the end we tied a buoy to the end of the rope and waited for the rescuers to come. As every second went by we were losing more and more hope."
"Other people kept telling us to get out because of the fuel. After a few days, we realised we didn't really realise the dangers and what could have happened if the boat caught alight.
"I thought there would only be about three people because of the size. We watched them dive and recover the bodies. To hear it was six there was very disappointing. It's a very tragic time."
The British victims had watched England in the fourth Ashes Test against Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, and were set to watch the final Test in Sydney this week, the Daily Telegraph reported.
England's Barmy Army cricket supporters paid tribute to them. "It's very sad to hear of the loss of any cricket fan around the world especially when it's so close to home," the Barmy Army's Chris Millard told the Telegraph.
- With The Sun and AFP