Richard Cousins, group chief executive of catering company Compass, died in a tragic plane incident on 31 December in Sydney (Australia) along with his fiancée and four children.

Although the cause is yet to be confirmed, the Guardian believes that the plane was heading for Rose Bay on Sydney Harbour when it flew into the Hawkesbury River near Cowan, at about 3.10pm on Sunday.

All passengers including Cousins (58), his fiancée Emma Bowden (48) and her daughter (11), his two sons (23 and 25) and the pilot (44) died in the crash. Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, said: “It is a tragic accident and… our hearts go out to the families of those whose lives were lost. We don’t know yet what caused it, but it’s just a tragedy. We grieve for those who lost their lives.”

Compass Group chairman, Paul Walsh, added: “We are deeply shocked and saddened by this terrible news. The thoughts of everyone at Compass are with Richard’s family and friends, and we extend our deepest sympathies to them.

“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.”

Due to step down from Compass in March, former chief executive of Marks & Spencer and friend, Marc Bolland, said to the Guardian that Cousins “wanted to stay active on the business and charitable side post-Compass… and was supportive of new ideas on dementia, and the Movement to Work – helping young, desperate, unemployed people.”

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Chris King, former communications director of Compass and who worked with Cousins for over five years, commented: “The company was on its knees when Richard took over in 2006. There was the whole Turkey Twizzler issue with Jamie Oliver, and the UN contract scandal, in which Compass was alleged to have put listening devices into the rooms of people bidding for UN contracts.

“I am not sure many people thought the company could have lasted more than two years and now, due to him, it is one of the best performing on the FTSE 100.

“He was quite exceptional. But the thing about Richard was he was a man of two parts – an extraordinary leader but he didn’t suffer fools gladly.”

The plane has not yet been recovered as police are “assessing the logistics of refloating the wreckage,” which will need to be brought back to the surface before investigators can look into what went wrong.