Sea World helicopter crash survivor breaks silence in exclusive interview with Sunrise’s Monique Wright
The first thing you notice about Winnie De Silva is her smile. It radiates.
I wonder how hard it must be to smile again after the nightmare she endured.
WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: Sunrise speaks to Gold Coast helicopter crash survivor
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Winnie sits in a wheelchair – two broken legs. One needs to be held permanently straight, a blue fabric sling holding her crushed collarbone, and through the smile, the occasional wince from the healing burns over her back – burnt by aviation fuel.
Internally, there were blood clots, and she lost part of her liver.
During the time I was with her, she didn’t complain once.
And we were talking about the worst moments of her life.
Up in that helicopter and then crushed underneath it, trapped as the helicopter landed on top of her.
Lots of things to complain about.
Instead, she has hope, hope for the future. How does a person have such peace?
Winnie was in a Sea World Helicopter when it collided with another chopper from the same company on the Gold Coast on January 2.
She was one of only three people on her helicopter who survived. Four others died.
They were all on holiday.
A joyride was something Winnie and her nine-year-old son Leon, always wanted to try.
It was a last-minute decision to go up.
Just a five-minute ride to see the sights – what could possibly go wrong?
Joyride gone wrong
Winnie remembers pilot Ash Jenkinson saying they could talk amongst themselves on the intercom.
All joyful holidaymakers, just like Winnie and Leon.
She was in the backseat with another mum, Vanessa Tadros and her young son Nicholas.
They smiled at newlywed couple Ron and Diane Hughes, visiting from England over Christmas as they all took in the sights of the Gold Coast.
Someone shared a joke over the intercom and Winnie recalls everyone laughing, they were all so happy.
Winnie is open and warm as she answers my questions about how she and son Leon are coping.
She tells me about the horrifying bang as the choppers collide.
Detailing what was happening in that moment, and what she did to get through the truly terrifying ordeal as they hurtled towards the ground.
She said she even had a moment of extraordinary peace as experienced pilot and young dad Ash, struggled with both hands for control of the chopper.
Winnie considers him her hero and can still see his face in that moment.
Winnie says he was able to get the chopper above a sandbar, which she says ultimately saved hers and Leon’s lives.
Ash, Ron, Diane and Vanessa all died that day.
Vanessa’s son Nicholas broke most bones in his body and is still in hospital.
Winnie’s son Leon also remains in hospital.
He’s improving slowly, but left with brain damage, needs 24 hour care and he still can’t run or play his beloved basketball.
Winnie and Leon have been separated now for six long weeks.
Leon is in Queensland Children’s Hospital, while Winnie is at The Gold Coast University Hospital.
The passengers in the other helicopter all survived after their pilot miraculously landed it safely on the same sandbar.
A rotar had sliced through the windscreen and tore open the entire front section.
The investigation continues.
Watch Sunrise on Monday to hear Winnie’s extraordinary story, witness her peace and hopes for kindness and love, and what her plans are now to do something special with her life.
I think she is already doing it, reminding us all what grace and gratitude look like in the face of such an ordeal.
Watch Sunrise at 530am on Monday to see the interview in full.
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