Tributes have been paid to a British family - including a high-profile businessman and an 11-year-old girl - after they were killed in a seaplane crash in Sydney on New Year’s Eve.

Richard Cousins, the 58-year-old chief executive of FTSE 100 company Compass Group, died alongside his sons Will, 25, Edward, 23, a St Andrews University graduate, his fiancee Emma Bowden, 48, and her young daughter Heather while they were on holiday in Australia.

The group were were on a return flight to Sydney’s Rose Bay, close to Sydney Harbour, when the small aircraft apparently nose-dived into the Hawkesbury River off Jerusalem Bay, 25 miles north of Sydney city centre, at about 3.10pm (4.10am GMT) on Sunday.

A sixth person on board, Sydney Seaplanes pilot Gareth Morgan, 44, also died.

Friends and colleagues described Mr Cousins as “well known and respected” after he helped transform Compass’ fortunes upon becoming the ailing catering firm’s boss in 2006. He had been due to step down from the role in March this year.

Paul Walsh, Compass chairman, said: “It has been a great privilege to know Richard personally and to work with him for the last few years.

“Richard was known and respected for his great humanity and a no-nonsense style that transformed Compass into one of Britain’s leading companies.”

Mr Cousins’ son Will was head of press for campaigners Open Britain, and was described by the group’s chairman Roland Rudd as an “extraordinary young man” who would be “missed beyond words”.

Neighbours at the family home in Tooting, south-west London, described how “distraught” relatives were seen entering the property on Sunday after hearing the news.

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Resident Lata Maisuria, a neighbour who has lived in the area for over 30 years, said the tragic holidaymakers were a “happy-go-lucky” family, and that neighbours would be shocked by their death.

She said Heather had recently started at a local secondary school.

“She seemed happy there,” Ms Maisuria said.

“I asked the daughter a couple of times how she was liking it, and she seems to have fitted in nicely at the school, and she seemed to be very happy.

“She really wanted to go to that school, she was looking forward to it.”

Terry Spry, 71, said the family were “lovely, charming” people.

Another neighbour said they “seemed very nice people”.

“When he saw us, every time he’d say hello and talk with us,” she said.

She added that Ms Bowden was a “very nice lady”.

Surrey County Cricket Club chief executive Richard Gould also paid tribute to businessman Mr Cousins, who was passionate about the sport.

Mr Gould said: “Richard was a regular and very popular visitor to the Kia Oval, and a great supporter of cricket.”

Investigators with the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) said the aircraft is thought to have “sunk rapidly” upon impact. The bodies of those on board have since been recovered.

About 10 recreational boats were believed to have been in the area at the time of the incident, and police have appealed for anyone who may have seen what happened to come forward.

Detective Superintendent Mark Hutchings, head of the New South Wales marine area command, told a press conference the crash “can only be described as a tragic accident”.

He added: “These people had come over on holiday to one of the most beautiful parts of the world, and for this to happen at a place like this is just tragic.”

Sydney Seaplanes, which has flown passengers including singer Ed Sheeran and Pippa Middleton and her husband James Matthews, said it was “deeply shocked” by the “tragic accident”.

The company has suspended its flights while the crash is investigated.

St Andrews University said Edward Cousins gained his degree in the summer of 2017.

A spokeswoman said: “Edward graduated with a degree in history last summer and had a bright future ahead of him.

“Everyone at the university who knew him will be shocked and saddened by this news.

“Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this very difficult time.”