Fatal Plane Crash May Have Been Caused by Passenger Accidentally Knocking Out Pilot While Taking Photos

Fatal Plane Crash May Have Been Caused by Passenger Accidentally Knocking Out Pilot While Taking Photos

A crash of a seaplane off the coast of Sydney, Australia that killed five passengers and the pilot may have been caused by one of the passengers accidentally knocking the pilot out while trying to take photos.

On December 31, 2017 at about 3:15 pm local time, a de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver crashed into Jersualem Bay near Sydney Australia, killing all five passengers and the pilot. The flight was taking a group home after dining at a nearby restaurant. 

Unfortunately, given the aircraft's age and size, it carried neither a cockpit voice recorder nor a flight data recorder. However, an intermediate report by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau indicated that all flight control surfaces and controls were in working order and in the proper positions, while witnesses indicated nothing out of the ordinary with the engine. 

Jerry Schwartz, a part-owner of Sydney Seaplanes, the company that owned the plane, strongly believes that the front-seat passenger inadvertently knocked out the pilot with their elbow while turning to take photos (photos taken during the flight were recovered from a camera found at the scene). Schwartz said this theory came about after the investigation found the aircraft was sound and that the pilot had made a "totally inexplicable" steep right turn that was incompatible with his skill, experience, and knowledge of the surrounding area. As such, it's believed that the pilot was incapacitated somehow, and given the pilot's age, health, and physical regimen as well as the recovered photos, some believe this was the mostly likely scenario.

Photo of accident aircraft by Wikipedia user Ahlynka, used under Creative Commons.

Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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ow, bugger that.

I would find it much more likely that the pilot had a stroke or heart attack or similar health issue rather than being knocked out by an elbow. I have never seen a photographer throwing bows so hard taking pictures that they would be capable of knocking someone out. Sounds like total bull spit.

First thought as well. I enjoy how this conjecture is made by the business owner and not the authorities. Also...

"An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the pilot had taken an authorized flight path during the fatal flight. In fact, the flight path was not authorized, according to Sydney Seaplanes CEO Aaron Shaw."

"We dont know what happened but it is most certainly NOT OUR FAULT!!!!!!"

"It is not a route we authorise in our Landing and Take-off Register and the plane simply should not have been where it was." I bet the plane was where it shouldnt be because of the photographer to. I bet he took control, flew the plane to an unauthorized area, and then body slammed the pilot knocking him out.

An autopsy is usual in this situation. Had a stroke or heart attack been a cause it would certainly show up in the PM. Although a smack in the head by a wild elbow on an elderly pilot is plausible, as others noted, it is conjecture.

No final conclusion has been released by the ATSB yet, none that I could find yet. Except for them saying:

"It is not a route we authorise in our Landing and Take-off Register and the plane simply should not have been where it was."

And that was before the crash.

As someone who watches a LOT of mixed martial arts, UFC, Bellator and the like I find this very hard to believe. The percentage of fighters who get knocked out by professionally delivered elbows with bad intentions is very low. And these are being thrown by trained athletes with good technique and a LOT of power. For a photographer to accidentally knock someone out with an elbow while turning to get a shot sounds almost impossible to me.


Also interesting to note, that the news article this article comes from, has not one single mention or implication of a photographer even being involved at all, unless I missed it. The only thing even remotely close to anything in this article is:

"There are hopes that electronic devices including mobiles phones recovered from scene that are being analysed by police may shed light on events on board prior to the crash."

Photography, photo, elbow, knocked out, none of this is mentioned.

What are the sources for this article? Where was this information quoted from?

I had to google it, there are 3-4 articles by the same online source.

Certainly not by the cited source in this article, which mentions nothing of it at all. I would like to actual sources cited in a news article.

Matter of fact I cannot find a single article that corroborates anything in this article. Can you link me to a source that says anything about a photographer knocking out the pilot at all?

I did find the apparent source for this article here:

I would hardly call the word of a new investor a good source for one. Also, if this was the source of the article then it needs to be cited as such:


This article needs to be completely deleted. Its full of complete bullshit about a story that happened nearly 2 years ago.

"A selfie may have caused a Sydney seaplane to crash killing six people, including a British millionaire tycoon, according to the company's new part owner.

Hotelier Jerry Schwartz, who announced his new partnership with Sydney Seaplanes this week, has said he has full confidence in the company's safety record."

"Mr Schwartz has ruled out pilot error and claims Mr Morgan was knocked out prior to the crash on the Hawkesbury River.

'The investigation has shown that safety is good and it's actually believed to not be pilot error,' Mr Schwartz told The Australian.

'The current belief is the passenger at the front actually knocked out the pilot.'"

A new investor to the company is the source of this? Wow, thats a solid source for sure.


this article in the dailymail is the only source I can find for any of this, and the source it gives is non existent as well. So this chain dead ends with the daily mail with no source attributed past that.

Looking up the ATSB reports (AO-2017-118) no final report has been made but not one single mention of any of this is substantiated by any report they have issued.

This is nothing more than terrible journalism quoting a source (not listed in this article) that quoted an unknown source (no longer available or broken link or never available) with a hotelier and new financier stating this information.

Report that if you want but do some journalism and point out the facts that are known, which none of this is even remotely close to.

Journalism 101:

Check your sources
Check your fact
Check your story

Thanks for the journalism lesson! 😊

Just figured if someone was "reporting the news" they might want to, you know, do some actual journalism, even a quick 15 minutes of google work. I also figure that they should cite accurate sources that they pulled their information from.

You’ve made it clear since you started commenting on my articles that you don’t like me, and your condescending and sarcastic comment that actually got a lot of facts either incorrect or missed the line of deduction makes it clear that you’re more interested in asserting your perceived correctness than having a discussion with me, so I thought it best to just leave it, as I prefer to engage in open-minded and respectful discourse. Have a great night! 😊

As a representative of the brand of Fstoppers, I’d recommend you take a different approach to the users of this site.

Thanks, Scott. I try to be wholly positive and respectful. I was making the point that Logan has made it clear on several occasions that he doesn’t care for me and my work and it’s perhaps best that we steer clear of each other. I’m disengaging from this now.

I understand, but looking at previous comments (not just on this thread), you may have escalated the conversation.

And, in PR and marketing, there is no “wrong”, just perception and stakeholder attitude.

I dont even know you, so its impossible for me to say whether or not I like you at all. What I do not like is sloppy journalism, which I am sorry, but I see a lot of, not only in your articles, but in others as well. I am sorry you take such personal offence to someone saying you are doing a poor job at a clearly defined job description such as journalism.

You can either take the CC and endeavor to be a better journalist, I.E. checking sources and doing more research and complete reports on the news stories you do, or not, but this has nothing to do with me liking you personally or not. I am fully capable of separating my personal feelings from other issues, professional or otherwise.

I do not like sloppy journalism and will call it out when I see it. It is not my fault if you take that personally and choose not to improve your craft and your employers business as a news site for photographers.

thats what they do here. just post anything. there is no quality in some articles. fake news good news or bad, no one is here to verify authenticity. its simply for the sake of views comments and revenue. were not talking about quality journalism here. its simply a business. take that into consideration and dont take it hard. I realize many posts here are like this and I dont take issue with them.

Just ignore him, Alex. He is just another one of these angry old white guys who seem to get outraged at everything these days. He needs to have an opinion on everything and give his 2 cents worth. Don't waste your time replying to argumentative types as they do not know how to have a civilised discussion.

LMAO "angry old white guys"

Im 33. And I am not that angry. I just expect more out of "journalists" reporting "news", as everyone should. The entire journalism industry is in shambles, and is constantly under attack because of it. Most Americans dont trust the news media anymore, and rightfully so, there are no standards anymore. There are no ethics. Its not even news anymore, its entertainment.



Sounds almost completely implausible. I'd give it a B minus for creativity, at best.

This is why we can't have nice things. Selfish photographers deliberately knocking out pilots just so they can get a photo. I bet they just wanted to get a selfie of themselves plunging to their death with the unconscious pilot in the shot.

This whole story needs a giant disclaimer that it is baseless nonsense spouted by the one person in the world who has the most to gain from shifting any responsibility from their company onto a now dead (and therefore can't rebut the claim) passenger.

Might want to include the fact that this is the second fatality this particular airplane has caused, it was involved in a fatal crash previous to this one, although it will not be flying again after this one.

It should also be said that the investigating authority, the ATSB has made no such claims at all, and has specifically stated that the plane had no business being where it was, which was over half a mile off flight plan, in an area and at an elevation that it should not have been.

"It is not a route we authorise in our Landing and Take-off Register and the plane simply should not have been where it was."

Wow, that's a bit of a flight of fancy.

The motive here is to shift blame from the pilot/company to a passenger.

The pilot being knocked out by a photographer's elbow when said photographer is turning to take a photo is one of the most preposterous suppositions I have ever had the misfortune to hear.

better to use small mirrorless cameras with small pancake lenses.

They won't be doing that anytime soon!


This could be a plot to a Gilligans Island episode, except they'd all live and swim back to the island and The Skipper would hit Gilligan with his hat for knocking out the pilot. (And... Mary Anne > Ginger!! Fight me!)

I winder where Hollywell Street was/is? Something about the street angles reminded me of somewhere but it didn't check out. And google maps knows Lane, etc, but not street.

I've been telling everyone that the new EOS-R 28-70 f2 is too big and heavy. See what happens when you take it out of the studio?