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A midair collision between two helicopters in Australia has left four people dead and three others in critical condition, authorities said Monday.
The collision happened around 2 p.m. local time near the popular tourist strip of Main Beach on the Gold Coast, south of Brisbane.
“Those two aircraft, when collided, have crash landed on the sand bank just out from Sea World Resort,” Queensland Police Inspector Gary Worrell, a regional duty officer for the southeastern region, told reporters.
He added it had been difficult for emergency services to access the sand bank, located not far from the coast.
Thirteen people were on the two helicopters, according to Jayney Shearman, from the Queensland Ambulance Service (QAS). Of those, four people died, three suffered serious injuries and six had minor injuries, including cuts from shattered glass.
All the injured had been taken to hospital, she said.
Photos from the site show debris lying on a strip of sand, with personnel gathered on land and numerous vessels in the surrounding waters.
Worrell said that though it’s too early to determine the exact cause of the accident, initial inquiries suggests one helicopter had been taking off and the other landing when they collided.
One helicopter “has its windscreen removed, and it’s landed safely on the island. The other (helicopter) has crashed, and it was upside down,” he said.
He added that after the crash, nearby police and members of the public rushed to the site, trying to remove and perform first aid on those inside the helicopter.
Angus Mitchell, Chief Commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), said in a statement that an investigation had been launched into the collision.
Investigators from the ATSB’s offices in Brisbane and Canberra will be deployed to the scene to gather evidence, examine the wreckage and map the site, as well as interview witnesses and involved parties, Mitchell added.
He asked people who witnessed the collision or saw the helicopters in flight to contact investigators. A preliminary report will come in the next six to eight weeks, with a final report after the investigation is complete, he said.
In a statement posted on Twitter, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk expressed her “deepest sympathies” for the victims’ families and everybody affected. “What has happened on the Gold Coast today is an unthinkable tragedy,” she said.
Police say Sea World Drive has been closed to traffic and urged motorists and pedestrians to avoid the area.
Sea World Drive is the main access point for the marine park that’s popular with tourists on the heart of the Gold Coast. It’s peak tourist season in the region right now, with schools closed for the long summer break.
CNN has reached out to Sea World for comment.