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Broome chopper crash pilot Troy Thomas’ efforts to cover up crash into boat a year earlier exposed

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Kristin Shorten
The Nightly
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Never-before-seen medical records shed shocking new light on how a pilot who crashed a helicopter killing him and a 12-year-old girl at a popular tourist destination had tried to cover up a near-death accident he caused just one year earlier.

Less than 12 months before schoolgirl Amber Millar died alongside pilot Troy Thomas in the holiday spot of Broome in WA’s north west, the high-profile tourism operator was flying another helicopter when it crashed off the top of a boat named High Calibre.

It destroyed the aircraft and seriously injured two passengers.

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The new details about the July 2019 crash, include how Thomas directed an injured passenger to swim around in crocodile-infested waters collecting debris and even stopped an ambulance from helping so he could cover up his tracks.

Two passengers – Thomas’ operations manager Bryce McGlashan and Chelsea Cortese – were onboard at the time of the crash.

Mr McGlashan was sitting in the front passenger seat while the 20-year-old woman was seated behind Thomas.

No one was wearing a life jacket.

High Calibre suffered significant damage in the crash.
High Calibre suffered significant damage in the crash. Credit: Western Australia Police Force /supplied

The weather was fine and the water in the bay was calm but as soon as Thomas tried to take-off from the boat the helicopter yawed left, tipped forwards and rolled to the right.

The main rotor blades struck the starboard side of the vessel, slicing through the boat and shattering the glass windows before nose diving into the water.

Mr McGlashan suffered serious spinal injuries while Ms Cortese, who was also seriously injured, almost drowned.

The helicopter, owned and operated by Thomas’ company Avanova Pty Ltd, was destroyed and claimed on insurance.

Documents obtained under Freedom of Information laws reveal that on February 2021, a Broome doctor who was treating Ms Cortese sent the Civil Aviation Safety Authority a detailed written account of the crash and its aftermath.

Tourism operator and pilot Troy Thomas.
Tourism operator and pilot Troy Thomas. Credit: Supplied/Vanessa Schmitt

The medical report alleged that Thomas asked the young woman to swim around in crocodile-infested waters collecting debris to help cover up the accident.

“The chopper went into a hover but could not take off as a strap was still attached at the front of the aircraft,” the doctor said.

“Troy rolled the chopper to the left (pilot’s side) and landed in the water.”

The doctor, who was also a CASA-Designated Aviation Medical Examiner, said Ms Cortese managed to undo her seatbelt and escape from the sinking wreckage before swimming about 8m back to the badly damaged boat.

“Bryce had extreme lower back pain,” the DAME wrote.

“The chopper blades had smashed windows on both sides of the boat and made multiple scratches down the side of the boat.

“Troy was more concerned with cleaning up the mess before anyone found out what had happened rather than Bryce’s pain or injuries.”

The statement said “Troy was panicking and did not want anyone to know about the accident”.

“Troy made Chelsea get in the tender attached to the boat to pick up debris from the accident,” the doctor noted.

She was killed when a Robinson R44 helicopter flown by tourism operator Troy Thomas crashed moments after taking off.
Amber Millar was killed when a Robinson R44 helicopter flown by tourism operator Troy Thomas crashed moments after taking off. Credit: Supplied

“Chelsea was asked to get in the water to pick up the debris such as side rails and fiberglass from the boat.”

While Ms Cortese was collecting debris from the water, Mr McGlashan – who had suffered serious spinal injuries – was lying down on the boat.

“Chelsea suggested medical assistance but as Troy did not want anybody to know about the incident she was not allowed to call for medical assistance,” the doctor recorded.

“Troy called Tonya Mathews [sic], chief pilot of Horizontal Falls, and asked her to land a seaplane at another location as he did not want anyone to see the wreckage or damage to the boat.”

Pilot Tonia Mathis had been flying a seaplane towards High Calibre with Thomas’ wife Sophie, the couple’s children, family friends and a chef when the incident occurred.

But when the seaplane was just minutes out from High Calibre, Thomas called Ms Mathis and told her to land in another bay nearby so they would not see the crash site.

Mr McGlashan and Ms Cortese were put onto a smaller boat called Relentless, with Thomas and High Calibre’s vessel master Matthew Lyons, and taken to a nearby bay to meet the seaplane.

“Troy, Bryce and Chelsea went in tender to another location approx. 5 mins around a corner,” the medical report said.

“Bryce was transported into the tender with great difficulty and pain.

“Troy told Tonya (sic) that Bryce fell down the steps in the (High Calibre) engine room and hurt his back.”

Thomas told Ms Mathis to fly Mr McGlashan and Ms Cortese back to Broome.

“Once in Broome Troy also did not allow for an ambulance to be called to assist Bryce on transport to hospital,” the medical report said.

“Chelsea went to hospital with Bryce who was transported there in the back of the Prado driven by Tonya (sic) as Troy…declined an ambulance.”

2017 Variety Ball Perth Arena Sophie Thomas and Troy Thomas
Sophie Thomas and Troy Thomas in 2017. Credit: Alf Sorbello/The Sunday Times

Following Thomas’ death a year later, Ms Cortese launched civil proceedings against Avanova and the matter is expected to proceed to trial later this year.

Ms Cortese’s lawyer David Williams, from DWL Legal, said he was limited in what he could say about the case while it was before the court, other than that he “hopes justice ultimately prevails”.

He also confirmed the respondent, Avanova Pty Ltd, was “vigorously defending the claim”.

Sophie Thomas, who was appointed director of Avanova in July 2020, did not respond to questions last week.

Her now partner, Mr McGlashan, also did not respond to questions.

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