SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian air crash investigators and police on Thursday began hoisting a seaplane from the Sydney river where it sank after crashing on New Year's Eve, killing six people, including the chief executive of British catering company Compass Group Plc.
Compass chief executive Richard Cousins, 58, and four members of his family were among the six people who died when the plane hit the water shortly after takeoff, according to police.
Police divers and a barge fitted with a small crane arrived not long after dawn on Thursday to begin lifting the plane out of about 13 meters of water near Cowan, 40 km (25 miles) north of Sydney. The job was expected to take several hours.
Using the crane, underwater airbags, or a combination of the two, they hope to recover the aircraft intact and take it by barge to a park downstream for further examination.
Investigators also hope to retrieve personal phones or other electronic devices that may have been on board when the plane crashed on Sunday, which could help to piece together what happened.
The plane's pilot, Gareth Morgan, 44, was also killed in the crash.
Air crash investigation records, first reported by the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper on Thursday and reviewed by Reuters, show an airplane with the same serial number crashed 21 years earlier, when it was being used as a crop duster.
The 1996 Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) accident report found that the aircraft, a DHC-2 de Havilland Canada, likely stalled and that conditions were gusty when it crashed, killing the pilot.
"It was repaired after the accident and all appropriate approvals and checks were done. It was then re-registered and went back into service," a spokesman for Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority said in an email.
The ATSB did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for Sydney Seaplanes, which operated the Sunday flight, said the company had no comment while the investigation into the crash continues.
The business has operated since 2005 with no previous record of mishap. Its director, Aaron Shaw, told reporters on Monday that the engines of its planes are regularly replaced, and the motor on the crashed aircraft had flown for only 200 hours.
Australian police have identified the family members killed along with Cousins as Emma Bowden, 48; Heather Bowden, 11; Edward Cousins, 23; and William Cousins, 25.
Family members and media reports identified the four as Cousins' two sons, his fiancée and her daughter.
(Reporting by Tom Westbrook; Editing by Leslie Adler)