Helicopter crash survivor swims to safety

A helicopter passenger swam 800 metres to shore in croc-infested waters with an injured leg after the chopper crashed off the far north Queensland coast.

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The 43-year-old was rescued by campers at Noah Beach in Cape Tribulation on Thursday night.

Camper Jane Mazzagatti said she and her husband were sitting outside when they heard “a big engine sound followed by a very loud crash impact”.

“Within 15 to 20 minutes later a man came running out of the bush asking for help,” she told ABC radio.

“He said he was in the helicopter when it went down and that his friend was still out there stuck in it.”

Search and rescue crews spent all of Friday scouring the ocean about 400 metres offshore in the hope of finding the 50-year-old pilot, identified as cane farmer Brad Maisel.

Debris was spotted in the morning, before the navy arrived to conduct underwater dives.

“We’ll keep searching until we’re absolutely certain there’s no chance,” said Australian Maritime Safety Authority spokesman Sam Cardwell.

The passenger was taken to Mossman Hospital with abdomen, chest and leg injuries, but was discharged on Friday morning.

Ocean Safari operations manager Oliver O’Reilly was one of the rescue volunteers who searched on Thursday night before it was called off because of poor conditions.

Mr O’Reilly said it would have been an “absolutely terrifying” experience for the passenger to be in the water.

“I’m absolutely amazed he managed to find himself on a beach with people on it,” he said.

Mr O’Reilly said the survivor had to contend with a dark, moonless sky, 25-knot winds, rough seas and a “massive king tide”.

“There was no beach to speak of,” he said.

“He’s incredibly lucky to have found land.”

Thornton Beach House owner Karen Gralton said he was also fortunate he didn’t encounter any crocodiles, who were more common at night.

CJ’s Bar and Cafe owner Bernadette Nicholls said the “poor bugger” had been subjected to terrible weather the night of the crash.

“The water’s been really, really rough,” she said.