THE Bathurst aviation community is rallying behind pilots Catherine Fitzsimons and Ben Wheeler who remain in hospital in a serious condition with burns following a plane crash at Orange Airport.
The duo were flying a Cirrus SR22 – a small, single-engine, light aircraft – when it crashed just near the runway at 7.10pm on Tuesday.
Emergency services were called to the scene to treat both pilots for serious burns, including damage to their airways, and fractures before they were airlifted to Royal North Shore Hospital.
Ms Fitzsimons, 55, is the chief flying instructor with WardAir Flight Training in Bathurst, while Mr Wheeler, 47, who is also a pilot, runs a business from Orange.
WardAir spokesman Luke Patterson said they were both “experienced pilots”.
“She’s [Ms Fitzsimons] an extremely experienced pilot, she’s our chief flying instructor. She’s flown all over the world,” he said.
“Catherine is very passionate about aviation, particularly women’s aviation and very passionate about developing safe pilots.”
Mr Patterson said the duo were in Mr Wheeler’s late-model, privately-owned aircraft when the accident occurred during an “instructional night flight”.
He said at this stage they did not want to speculate on the cause of the accident while it was still under investigation by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB).
“Everybody is in shock out here, we don’t know what’s happened or why it happened but we’re focusing on their health right now,” Mr Patterson said.
“We’re all doing OK, we’re just rallying around each other while it’s still developing.”
She’s [Catherine Fitzsimons] an extremely experienced pilot, she’s our chief flying instructor.WardAir Flight Training's Luke Patterson
NSW Ambulance acting duty operations manager Jason Speight told Fairfax Media that both victims were conscious when emergency services arrived on the scene, and that the female victim had suffered more serious injuries.
The incident will be investigated by NSW Police Force and the ATSB.
“Investigators will examine the wreckage, gather any available recorded data and interview any witnesses, amongst other activities,” an ATSB statement said.
Ms Fitzsimons was a former president of the NSW/ACT Australian Women Pilots' Association and is a current board member of the Bathurst Aero Club.
WardAir has been operational for around 17 years, and Ms Fitzsimons purchased the company three years ago when she moved to Bathurst.
- WATCH: NSW Ambulance acting duty operations manager Jason Speight speaking at Orange Airport.