IN AN exclusive interview with The Observer, owner of 1770 Castaway Bruce Rhoades hailed his "best mate" Les 'Woody' Woodall a hero after the plane he was flying crashed into the sand at Middle Island.
The crash left a 29-year-old UK woman dead and two others in critical condition, including Woody, who was taken to the Intensive Care Unit at Bundaberg Hospital with head, chest and spinal injuries.
Mr Rhoades (inset) said he was flying a considerable distance behind Woody and did not see the plane crash.
Developing story: 'Engine failure' investigated as possible cause of plane crash
He also said he didn't "hear a word over the radio" from Woody in the moments before the horror crash.
After seeing the wreckage on the beach Mr Rhoades said he broadcasted a mayday call to alert emergency services and landed his plane 100m from the crash.
"After we got him out of the wreckage I spoke to him and the silly bastard was apologising for wrecking the plane," Mr Rhoades said.
"They were all virtually unconscious with the exception of Woody.
"Woody said it was engine failure and he told me he elected to turn away from the water and tried to go over the sand dunes because he was afraid that if they went into the water, passengers might drown."
A team of investigators were at the crash site today and acting Gladstone Police Inspector Jane Healy said officers would investigate "whether or not engine failure" caused the crash.
Mr Rhoades, who is being supported by his partner and friends, said Woody was now in a "better condition" in hospital and was "eating jelly and talking".
"He's a larrikin, tough as nails and as fit as a Mallee bull … he runs rings around 25-year-olds and that (strength) will get him through," Mr Rhoades said.
"We're best mates…he's the man I would trust above anybody in the world."
Mr Rhoades has been mates with Woody for 12 years and during the past few years had employed Woody as a backup pilot for his business, 1770 Castaway, which offers mostly backpackers the experience of an adventure getaway.
"We were out there yesterday to take (the passengers) up to land on the beach to take them out for a survivor camp," Mr Rhoades said.
After landing Mr Rhoades ran up to the wreckage where the camp manger of 1770 Castaway's survivor tour Serge Martinho was attempting to help passengers.
"He was on the ground when the aircraft crashed and five minutes before I was there and he had got them out and was catching fuel so nothing caught alight," Mr Rhoades said.
"He's a hero…he's a star.
"I was doing CPR on the (dead) girl and then finally, I told Serge to do CPR on the girl and jumped in the plane and flew to Agnes Water.
"The emergency services were coming out in the LARC and I landed alongside them and picked up medics and flew back to the crash scene."
By that time a RACQ Capricorn Rescue Helicopter and LifeFlight Rescue Helicopter had arrived and were assisting with patients.
"It took a little while for (the rescue services) to get there…(but) I'd really like to thank all of the emergency workers and the backpackers too…even though they didn't understand CPR they just jumped up and helped," Mr Rhoades said.
Mr Rhoades said Woody was a very experienced pilot and that "no one can second guess a pilot in that situation".
Mr Rhoades is assisting the Australian Transport Safety Bureau with their investigations but a spokesman for the ATSB said a report to determine how the plane crashed could "take several months".
Act Insp Healy said police were in the process of preparing a report for the coroner.
The dead woman's family has been notified, however, they haven't given police permission to release her name.
A 21-year-old Irish woman was taken to a Brisbane hospital for treatment on her head injuries after Tuesday's plane, while a 13-year-old boy remains at the Rockhampton Hospital in a stable condition.
The boy's father had been traveling in the other plane and was understandably "distraught", according to Mr Rhoades.
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.