A mid-air collision between two helicopters in Australia left four dead and three in critical condition, authorities said on Monday.
The collision happened at 2pm local time near the popular tourist strip of Main Beach on the Gold Coast, south of Brisbane.
“Those two planes, when they collided, landed on a sandbar not far from the Sea World resort,” Queensland Police Inspector Gary Worrell, regional duty officer for the south-east region, told reporters.
He said it was difficult for emergency services to access the sandbar, which is far from the coast.
According to Janey Shearman from the Queensland Ambulance Service (QAS), there were thirteen people on board the two helicopters. Four of them died, three sustained serious injuries and six sustained minor injuries, including glass shards.
All the injured have been admitted to the hospital, he said.
Photos of the site show wreckage lying on a sandbar, with crews collecting several ships on land and in the surrounding waters.
While it is too early to determine the exact cause of the crash, Worrell said preliminary inquiries indicate one helicopter was taking off and landing when another helicopter collided.
A helicopter “had its windscreen removed and was safely landed on the island. The other (helicopter) has crashed and is upside down,” he said.
After the crash, nearby police and members of the public rushed to the spot and tried to administer first aid to the occupants of the helicopter, he said.
Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) chief commissioner Angus Mitchell said in a statement that an investigation into the collision had been launched.
Mitchell added that investigators from ATSB offices in Brisbane and Canberra would be deployed to the scene to collect evidence, examine the wreckage and map the site, as well as interview witnesses and participants.
He asked people who witnessed the collision or saw the helicopters take off to contact investigators. He said that the preliminary report will come in the next six to eight weeks and the final report will come after the completion of the investigation.
In a statement posted on Twitter, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk expressed her “deepest sympathies” to the families of the victims and everyone affected. “What happened on the Gold Coast today is an unthinkable tragedy,” he said.
Police say Sea World Drive is closed to traffic and motorists and pedestrians are urged to avoid the area.
Sea World Drive is the main entry point to the popular tourist marine park in the heart of the Gold Coast. Now is the peak tourist season in the region and schools are closed for the long summer break.
CNN has reached out to SeaWorld for comment.