Sea World chopper pilot dubbed a ‘hero’ for safely landing his helicopter after mid-air collision has died

The surviving ‘hero pilot’ from the horror crash of a Sea World helicopter that killed several people has died of cancer.

Michael James, 53, was praised for saving the lives of his five passengers when the helicopter he was piloting was involved in a mid-air collision with another joyride helicopter on Queensland’s Gold Coast on January 2, 2021.

Nearly 18 months after the horrific crash, Mr James lost his battle with cancer and died aged 53.

Mr James was hailed a hero after he landed the helicopter safely on a sandbank despite it being seriously damaged.

Sea World Helicopters pilot Michael James survived the tragedy but has died of cancer.

He was praised for his ‘remarkable’ landing and was rushed to hospital, where he underwent surgery to remove shrapnel from his wounds.

Before being rushed to hospital, Mr James was seen pulling people from the wreckage and helping others before accepting treatment for his injuries.

Mr James was hailed as remarkable, with one of his surviving passengers writing online in the days after the crash: ‘Our pilot, Michael James, you are our hero.’

“You landed the helicopter safely and kept the bystanders and us safe. We are eternally grateful to you.’

He left behind a wife and said goodbye at a private funeral on June 4.

Sea World Helicopters chief pilot Ash Jenkinson was killed in the crash, along with Vanessa Tadros and British tourists Ron and Diane Hughes.

Ms Tadros’ then ten-year-old son, Nicholas, suffered serious injuries and had his leg amputated from the knee down.

Victorian woman Winnie de Silva and her son Leon, then nine, were also seriously injured. Leon suffered brain trauma and was kept in an artificial coma for some time.

Mr James was the pilot of the other helicopter that managed to land on a sandbank, saving the lives of New Zealand tourists Elmarie Steenberg, Riaan Steenberg, Edward Stewart and Marle Stewart, who were also injured in the crash.

The couples issued a joint statement to Mr James after the crash.

‘To our pilot, who, despite all the chaos, landed the helicopter safely, keeping us and other bystanders safe. You are our hero. Thank you very much,” the joint statement read.

Helicopter crash

Helicopter crash

Mr James never flew again after the crash and it is believed he was diagnosed with cancer sometime in 2023.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau continues to investigate the tragedy.

An interim report published by the ATSB in January found that chief pilot Ash Jenkinson had traces of cocaine in his system.

But ATSB Chief Constable Angus Mitchell confirmed the trace of cocaine in Mr Jenkinson’s system would not have caused the fatal collision.

“It is important to note that while this is a substantial and comprehensive interim report, the ATSB has not yet made any formal findings on the factors that contributed to this accident while we continue our analysis of that evidence.”

The interim report found that the ATSB’s wreck investigation revealed no pre-existing defects in either helicopter that would affect normal operation.