In a devastating incident off Melbourne’s Mornington Peninsula, a mid-air collision between two light Viper S-211 Marchetti planes has resulted in the tragic deaths of pilot Stephen Gale and his passenger, James Rose.
The pair was on board one of the planes conducting a formation flight for a promotional shoot around 1:45 pm on Sunday.
The collision led to the immediate plunge of their aircraft into Port Phillip Bay, approximately 20 meters below, while the second plane, also carrying two individuals, managed to land safely at Essendon airport.
Victoria Police Inspector Terry Rowlands confirmed on Monday that the authorities believe both Gale and Rose lost their lives in the crash. Speaking at Mount Martha, Rowlands expressed the heartbreak surrounding the incident, stating, “[It is] unbelievably tragic for the families and all involved.”
As of Monday morning, the search for the wreckage is ongoing, with water police and the air wing leading the efforts, supported by agencies such as the Port of Melbourne authority and the coast guard.
The search area spans a significant distance, approximately three nautical miles offshore, and includes both floating debris and the use of sonar equipment to locate any potential wreckage on the seafloor. Rowlands mentioned that divers have not yet entered the water, waiting until the wreckage is located. The calm conditions on Port Phillip Bay are expected to aid in the search efforts.
Reports indicate that some wreckage, including a plane tire and part of a wing, was retrieved from the bay before the search was temporarily halted overnight. Authorities are urging anyone who spots additional wreckage to contact emergency services.
Stephen Gale, the owner of Jetworks Aviation, was a former Royal Australian Air Force engineer who took up flying later in life. Holding a commercial command instrument rating and a low-level formation aerobatic rating, Gale’s flying school, based at Essendon Fields, was created for the television documentary “Any Fool Can Fly.” The school offers flight training and joy rides, including a unique package for a 45-minute two-jet fighter formation flight.
The chief commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), Angus Mitchell, revealed that the planes were conducting a promotional shoot at the time of the crash. Mitchell stated that investigators would speak to the surviving pilot to determine the circumstances leading to the tragic collision. He noted that these high-performance planes are used globally, including for military purposes and joy flights.
James Rose, the passenger and a skilled drone operator, had worked on prominent TV shows for networks such as Nine Network, Seven Network, and production company EndemolShine, the producer of MasterChef. Rose had tagged a video production company in a social media post just hours before the crash, depicting him in the cockpit of one of the jets.
As the investigation unfolds, the community mourns the loss of two individuals whose passion for aviation and media had brought them together for what should have been a routine formation flight. The incident marks the fourth mid-air collision in Australia within the last 12 months, further emphasizing the need for a thorough investigation to prevent future tragedies.