What John Pusell saw and experienced on Thursday afternoon will live with him forever.
Mr Pusell and his workmates were close enough to touch passengers in the helicopter that crashed at Panorama House but were unable to react to their cries for help before it burst into flames.
The Corrimal contractor was setting up a wedding marquee with three other men at the Bulli Tops site when the helicopter appeared at the edge of the cliff.
He then watched in horror as it crashed to the ground.
‘‘[The helicopter] sort of popped up from the edge of the cliff and hovered straight up, about 20 feet away, pretty close,’’ Mr Pusell said.
‘‘We could see their faces smiling at us.’’
A few minutes later the men heard the snap of a tree branch and knew the chopper had gone down.
‘‘I thought it was pretty close to us, I’d never seen a helicopter that close,’’ Mr Pusell said.
‘‘I heard a branch go click and said ‘oh no, it’s hit the tree, boys’.’’
‘‘It smashed the blades, went back up again about another foot and then just dropped to the ground – didn’t really crash, just hit the ground and the rotors were still going.
‘‘It toppled over, landed – it all happened in about three seconds – and we jumped the fence and I was yelling ‘it’s going to blow up, man, we have to get them out’.’’
‘‘I turned around, I said get some fire extinguishers, get water. The other guys were trying to pull the helicopter back down but it was too heavy.’’
It was then Mr Pusell spotted a male passenger and pilot in the front seats of the chopper.
He didn’t see the two other passengers on board.
He said the doors opened and a young male popped his head out and said: ‘‘I’m stuck, I’m stuck. Help, help!’’
‘‘I saw the flames start coming down ... all the fumes were coming up where the capsule was, we heard a little click and I said ‘get out of here boys, it’s going to blow’,’’ Mr Pusell said.
‘‘We all moved back and the explosion wasn’t massive or anything, but off it went and then we said ‘let’s get in there now’.’’
Panorama restaurant staff, including owner Nick Di Maggio and his sister Maria, also rushed towards the helicopter with every fire extinguisher they could find.
‘‘We tried to keep a cool head and do what we could – it seemed like five minutes but it was probably five seconds – we got the fire out and we thought there was an opportunity then that we might be able to lift this guy out,’’ Mr Pusell recalled.
But the heat was too much for them.
A gutted Mr Pusell can’t get Thursday’s events out of his mind.
‘‘As soon as you go to bed it’s in your head,’’ he said.
‘‘I had a couple of beers and went to my parents’ house and said a prayer.’’
He visited the crash site with a bunch of flowers yesterday.
Mr Di Maggio, who called triple-0 when he heard the helicopter crash from inside Panorama House, said he and his staff thought nothing of their own safety as they ran to help extinguish the flames.
‘‘We didn’t think anything, just tried to put the fire out. We didn’t think that it could blow up or come out and hit us – we were pretty lucky I think,’’ Mr Di Maggio said. ‘‘When we knew we didn’t have any extinguishers left all we could do was just watch it disintegrate.’’
He commended his workers’ bravery and said everyone had pulled together in the hours after the crash.
After an exhausting day, he drew on the last of his energy reserves to feed emergency services workers on Thursday night.
The restaurant was back open for business yesterday with Mr Di Maggio saying he had no choice but to press on with life.
He will go ahead with his planned wedding open day today.
‘‘You have to keep going – but I just keep thinking about it.’’