The 70-year-old pilot and his 52-year-old wife were on a scenic flight to Moreton Island when their hired aircraft disappeared on Wednesday afternoon. Medical advice provided to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) suggested they would not have survived a high-speed crash.
A search for the couple from Brisbane’s southern bayside suburbs will move into a recovery phase.
The plane vanished over Queensland waters moments after a the pilot made an urgent distress call before losing contact with flight controllers.
“Mayday, mayday, mayday, Whiskey November Romeo,” were the frantic words of the experienced Brisbane pilot at about 4.30pm on Wednesday.
He did not respond to repeated attempts from officials to make further contact in the audio, broadcast by the Seven Network, but the aircraft could be seen on the radar before it disappeared.
The couple had been due to return to the Sunshine Coast later on Wednesday. The pilot was understood to be experienced, and it was not the first time he had flown that particular aircraft.
A wheel and sheet metal from the body of the plane are among the scattered pieces of debris found north of Moreton Island about four hours after the crash. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau is investigating the incident. Inspector Craig White said earlier the pilot had made a number of flights in the plane earlier in the week.
The distress call sparked a major search involving water police, AMSA, helicopters and local fishing trawlers. Multiple helicopters and boats searched the area to the north of the island overnight.
However the search was called off at about midnight due to rough weather conditions.
Twelve vessels including water police, volunteer coast guard, fishing trawlers and two jet skis resumed scouring a 550sq km area from first light on Thursday. Air assets were assisting with the search include the AMSA Challenger jet, and six helicopters, while officers searched on foot.