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Experts to comb air crash
Pilot Adam Gaffney with fiance Janice Mae Andoy-Posadas

UPDATE: 1.20PM Air crash investigators will spend the next three days on Broome's Cable Beach trying to determine why a light aircraft speared into sand dunes just moments after take-off on Wednesday night, killing its recently engaged pilot.

Golden Eagle Airlines today paid tribute to Adam Gaffney, releasing a statement saying he was an experienced and professional pilot who had joined the company in March 2011.

“He was well respected by his peers and was highly regarded by the wider aviation community,” the statement said.

“Adam was a friendly person who would always lend a helping hand and a popular member of the Golden Eagle Team.

“Ever time he walked through the door he would have a big smile on his face and would brighten up everyone’s day.

“He was a devoted family man who put his family above everything.

“He is sorely missed.”

The death of Mr Gaffney, 27, who was beginning his regular night-time freight run to Port Hedland, has devastated his fiancee, Janice Mae Andoy-Posadas, of just three weeks.

She was being comforted yesterday by friends and the owners of Golden Eagle Airlines, where Mr Gaffney had been employed for about the past 18 months.

The crash, which happened about 8.15pm, sparked a major air and sea rescue effort which ended tragically about four hours later when the twin-engine 1973 Piper Seneca was found broken up in sand dunes near the end of the Broome Airport runway.

About 1km away, hundreds of people were enjoying a concert at the Cable Beach amphitheatre which was temporarily interrupted by the emergency.

Some people in the audience heard what they described as a dull thud in the distance.

The plane had crashed at high speed and came to rest on a large piece of limestone.

"Witnesses have said they heard that the engines, or an engine, wasn't running properly and shortly after that there was a thud," Acting Supt Frank Audas said.

One witness believes the engine stalled on take-off, leaving Mr Gaffney with no time to recover.

The plane did not explode or catch fire on impact, so the initial view was it had crashed in the sea.

"The witness reports we received indicated the plane had gone into the ocean,"Acting Supt Audas said.

"We had the details of the intended flight plan of the aircraft so bearing in mind those details that's where we focused our efforts."

There was no communication between air traffic controllers and Mr Gaffney once he had signalled he was commencing take-off.

A former colleague, Addy Rudds, said: "He was one of the nicest pilots I've ever met, honestly.

"He was easygoing, too."

Air crash investigators arrive at the scene yesterday. Picture: Steve Ferrier/The West Australian

The plane was carrying an emergency position indicating radio beacon but it was not activated.

Golden Eagle co-owner Mary Russell said: "At this stage details of what occurred and the cause of the accident are not known.

"The airline has operated in the region for 22 years without major incident."