Mandurah family remember 'honest, fun-loving' Amber, 12, killed in Broome helicopter tragedy

Passionate. Honest. Fun-loving. Empathetic. Supportive.

Those are the words a heartbroken Mandurah family has used to describe their beloved Amber Jess, whose life was tragically cut short after a helicopter accident in Broome last week.

The 12-year-old was one of two people killed in the crash in Bilingurr, north of Broome, just after 2.30pm on July 4.

The pilot - local tourism icon and Bouvard resident Troy Thomas, 40 - was also tragically killed when the Robinson R44 helicopter crashed.

His daughter and Amber's friend, Mia Thomas, was also aboard along with Mandurah woman, Maddison Down.

They were critically injured in the crash and flown by the Royal Flying Doctor Service to Perth for medical treatment.

They remain in serious but stable conditions in hospital.

As investigators examine the scene in Broome and try to piece together exactly what caused the helicopter to crash, families and friends in Mandurah have been left reeling from the shocking loss.

'She was larger than life'

There doesn't seem to be enough words to shine a light on just how special Amber was.

Her family sat down together this week, just days after the tragedy, to reflect on Amber's short but incredible life, and remember the happy and wise girl they love endlessly.

It was an honour that her cousin, Emily, and mother, Fee, shared those treasured memories with me.

"When we think of Amber, the first thing that comes to mind is that she just lived life to the fullest," they said.

"She always wore a smile and had this really unique way of lighting up any room and there was just such a peace and a happiness and a joy that came with her.

"She cared deeply about everybody around her, she was so selfless and so generous and she loved like nobody I've ever met before."

Having grown up in Mandurah, Amber called the beach her "happy place" and loved spending time by the ocean.

In fact, her family said she loved just about everything that life had to offer.

"From such a young age, she had such a revelation of what it was to live your life for others and she didn't waste a single moment," her family recalled.

"She just lived life like that, giving everything she had to make sure people were impacted in a positive way.

"She was such a glass-half-full kid, absolutely wise beyond her years."

Fee said an example of this was Amber's favourite quote by surfer, and Amber's personal inspiration, Bethany Hamilton.

"I've learned life is a lot like surfing," the quote reads.

"When you get caught in the impact zone, you need to get right back up, because you never know what's over the next wave... and if you have faith, anything is possible - anything at all."

An 'all-rounder'

From sports to community service, and a dedication to school, Amber's family described their go-getter girl as an "all-rounder".

She was a passionate surfer and talented netball player for the Silverette Netball Club and Mandurah's Talent Development Squad (TDS).

Amber had just been selected for the TDS team to represent Mandurah in a state-wide competition, and was due to start training after the school holidays.

Despite keeping herself busy outside of school, she was also committed to her studies as a devoted student at Frederick Irwin.

"She really was an all-rounder," the family said.

"She loved sport but always got academic mentions and awards at school.

"She was also a little adventurer and loved nature and animals... and a little prankster always making people laugh. She wasn't the kind of kid that was in front of a screen."

Amber was a "devoted student" at Frederick Irwin Anglican School in Mandurah. Photo: Supplied by Amber's family.

Amber was a "devoted student" at Frederick Irwin Anglican School in Mandurah. Photo: Supplied by Amber's family.

Amber was also a former City of Mandurah junior councillor, representing the local youth on issues related to the environment and mental health.

She was nominated by her primary school for the position after proving herself as a strong, yet sensitive leader among her year group cohort.

"This was a kid that gave up her spare time to help the community," Emily said, holding back tears.

"She was so passionate, especially about anti-bullying and she strongly advocated for the wellbeing of her peers.

"She did junior council because she wanted to make the world a better place. She dreamed of it... and she did that."

Family first

Amber and her mum, Fee, and dad, Clint, were well-known around town for adventuring every weekend.

They didn't waste a single moment - filling their spare time by going on camping trips together and exploring everything the world had to offer.

"[Amber's] mum and dad and her were always off on the boat, fishing, surfing and skating or at the beach," Emily said.

"The three of them were on family adventures all the time - they were so close, they were never apart.

"She adored them and they adored her, and she knew how loved she was and they knew how much she loved them as well."

Fee described her daughter as generous, special, irreplaceable.

"I want to thank you, my darling angel girl, for gracing me with the best 12 years of my life," she wrote in a statement.

"Your legacy will shine through us so brightly, Amber Jess.

"You were my best friend, and I will love you till the end of days."

Her dad Clint added that the time he had with his daughter was a blessing.

"My beautiful Amber you are the most amazing and special young girl I have ever known and I feel so blessed to have called you my daughter," he said.

"You have touched my heart in so many ways and I will never forget you my darling."

Amber and her cousin Louis. Photo: Supplied by Amber's family.

Amber and her cousin Louis. Photo: Supplied by Amber's family.

In their statement, Amber's parents also paid tribute to the loss of their friend, Troy Thomas.

"We express our condolences to our beautiful friend Sophie who has lost her husband and the father of her children," Fee said.

"We are hoping and praying for the best possible outcome for our two beautiful friends who are fighting for their lives in this horrific accident."

A long-lasting legacy 

"Amber has undoubtedly impacted the lives of all who met her," Amber's family agreed.

I never had the pleasure of knowing Amber, but I can tell from the incredible way her family sings her praises that she was a special girl, and that she will be so very missed.

"She embraced every single moment... she was larger than life," they added.

"Regardless of who you were, she loved you and cared about you and made you so, so happy.

"She has left behind a strong legacy."

"What do you think that legacy is?" I asked.

I could hear Amber's family all smiling through the phone.

"That we now have to embrace life and we have to live life to the fullest and we have to love big and love others because that's who she was," Emily said.

"As a 30-year-old woman, my little cousin has challenged me to live a better life - not because of the nature of this very tragic accident, but because of who she was and how she lived her life.

"We were very lucky and privileged to have her for 12 short years.

"She has left a mark on this world."

Tributes flow from Mandurah community

Locals in the Peel region have been left shocked by the news of the harrowing crash.

As the community grapples with the tragedy, tributes have flown in for Amber and Mr Thomas - both of whom were well-known and much-loved throughout Mandurah.

Mandurah mayor Rhys Williams described it as a "devastatingly sad situation".

"No words can describe our collective grief as a community for the loss of any child," he wrote in a post on Facebook.

"I know there are many people across Mandurah who were friends of both [Troy and Amber] and who are right now grieving their sudden and tragic loss.

"Please find comfort in one another and know that you are in my thoughts.

"Sending lots of strength to Mia Thomas and Maddison Down, and lots of love to the families and friends of those that have passed away."

West Coast Eagles player and close friend of Mr Thomas, Karl Langdon also offered his condolences on social media.

"We lost an inspiring husband, father, brother, son and friend yesterday," Mr Langdon wrote.

"I met you as a teenager in Mandurah and at 19 you were chartering your own boat Rare Breed.

"You followed your dreams and created an environment for people all over the world to come and explore, this is your legacy."