Six dead as seaplane crashes into Sydney river ahead of New Year celebrations

A seaplane crashed into a Sydney river on Sunday, killing six people on a "wine and dine" sightseeing flight ahead of the city's New Year's Eve celebrations at the harbor.

Police said they did not know the cause of the crash, nor the identities of the five passengers, but were speaking with several witnesses who were in boats on one of the waterways' busiest days of the year. The pilot was the sixth victim.

Several Australian media reported that four of the victims were British nationals, although that was not immediately confirmed by police. In London, the Foreign Office said its officials were in contact with local authorities in Sydney.

"We stand ready to provide consular assistance," a Foreign Office spokeswoman said.

The aircraft was operated by Sydney Seaplanes, a major tourism operator in the city. Several visiting celebrities have flown on the company's sightseeing planes, including pop stars Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith, tech mogul Bill Gates, comedian Jerry Seinfeld and actor Cuba Gooding Jnr.

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Roads go off in various directions next to sand dunes covered in vegetation in the Pilbara region of Western Australia December 2, 2013. Western Australia's Pilbara region, which is the size of Spain, has the world's largest known deposits of iron ore and supplies nearly 45 percent of global trade in the mineral. Picture taken December 2. REUTERS/David Gray 
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A general view of dried-up rivers in the Pilbara region of Western Australia December 2, 2013. Western Australia's Pilbara region, which is the size of Spain, has the world's largest known deposits of iron ore and supplies nearly 45 percent of global trade in the mineral. Picture taken December 2. REUTERS/David Gray 
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Police said the seaplane was returning the party of five people from a waterside restaurant in Sydney's north to the Sydney Seaplanes headquarters in Rose Bay in the city's east when it crashed into the water, immediately sinking.

"We have spoken to a number of witnesses," Acting Superintendent Michael Gorman told reporters, adding that forensic police would inspect the plane to assess when it could be raised from the seabed.

"It's too early in the investigation so we don't know why the plane crashed."

Gorman said police were liaising with Sydney Seaplanes to identify the victims and their families would be contacted before they were named publicly.

Sydney Seaplanes has been operating since 1938, originally flying from Australia to Britain, a journey that required thirty refueling stops along what became famous as the "Kangaroo" route. 

(Reporting By Jane Wardell in Sydney and Estelle Shirbon in London; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

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