Aircraft damaged when it struck something during takeoff, with nearby boats rushing to evacuate those onboard after crash, witnesses say

By Catie McLeod

A pilot and seven passengers have avoided serious injuries after a seaplane ended up on Shark Island after being forced to abort its takeoff from Sydney Harbour.

The plane was operated by Sydney Seaplanes – the same company whose aircraft was involved in a 2017 crash that killed six people on the Hawkesbury River.

New South Wales police said on Thursday that one person onboard the light aircraft had suffered minor injuries and was treated at the scene by paramedics.

“Police have been told one of the pontoons had sustained damage and fell off, resulting in the crash,” a spokesperson for the force said.

Emergency services were called to Shark Island before midday.

The Sydney Seaplanes chief executive, Aaron Shaw, said the plane hit something during its takeoff run – possibly the wake from a boat – that damaged the aircraft.

“The pilot … aborted the takeoff. The plane didn’t get in the air,” he told Guardian Australia. “Fortunately, there weren’t any injuries. The pilot did everything as trained and they’re all fine.”

Shaw said the passengers were evacuated from the aircraft, which was then towed to Shark Island by a boat, rather than running aground “on its own steam”.

He said initial media reports that the plane had crashed into Sydney Harbour were incorrect.

The Australian Superyachts chief executive, Richard Morris, witnessed the aftermath of the incident.

“I’m on the harbour with my boat – I was going by when I heard [on the radio] that a seaplane was in trouble on Rose Bay,” Morris said.

“It didn’t crash into the harbour. Something happened and it came back into the water and then the lefthand float wasn’t staying upright.”

Morris said a “flotilla” of small boats helped take passengers off the seaplane “calmly and safely”.

He had earlier speculated the seaplane pilot may have deliberately run the aircraft on to Shark Island to prevent it from capsizing.

“If the seaplane sinks, it will turn upside down. Then it’s going to be much more hazardous to get your passengers off safely.”

The Vaucluse state MP, Kellie Sloane, said the situation “could have been so much worse”.

In 2017, a Sydney Seaplanes DHC-2 Beaver crashed into the Hawkesbury River, killing all six people onboard. It was en route to Rose Bay.

“Everyone is tremendously relieved that everyone is safe and no one was seriously harmed [on Thursday],” Sloane said.

“While the circumstances are very different to the 2017 crash, which took six lives, people will inevitably reflect on that.”

Sloane said the seaplane industry was an “iconic local service”.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau was notified and said it was gathering information before deciding whether to conduct an investigation.