A former senior head of safety at Qantas and Emirates has described as “inadequate and seriously flawed” the final report into the ditching of an air-ambulance plane in the sea off Norfolk Island in November 2009.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau found that the night-time ditching resulted from a lack of pre-flight and en-route planning, as well as the pilots not assessing, before it was too late, that a safe landing at Norfolk Island could not be guaranteed.

The final report into the accident, which occurred after the plane ran out of fuel, was released two months ago. The two crew and four passengers of the Pel-Air Westwind jet survived the ditching but some, including a nurse, have been left with lasting injuries.

A senate committee began a hearing today in Canberra into the bureau’s findings, and compared them with a special report from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority that found deficiencies in the operations of the plane’s owners, Pel-Air, a unit of the ASX-listed airline Regional Express.

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The plane’s captain, Dominic James, has sought to clear his name.

An aviation safety consultant, Mick Quinn, told the committee today that it was “an absolute miracle that everyone survived” the accident.

“Lessons need to be learnt from this accident rather than focus on blame and cover-up,” Mr Quinn said.

The bureau’s final report was “seriously flawed in many aspects and appears to have taken a biased view of the events surrounding the accident”.

He described as “unreasonable” the 1015 days it had taken to produce the report, as well as the embedding of analysis in its factual parts.

“There are numerous errors still in this report, and after 1015 days I think that is just incredible,” he said. “The report has serious omissions with regard to the Pel-Air oversight of its operations as dissected by CASA in a special audit following the accident. We have got to a new low, where the Norfolk report basically omits all organisational aspects of this flight.

“What we need to ensure is that this doesn’t happen again.”

Mr Quinn has 31 years’ experience in the aviation industry, including as manager of air safety investigations at Qantas and as senior vice-president of safety at Emirates.

He has been assisting Captain James, who he has known for two decades, on a voluntary basis – including helping him to regain his pilot’s licence.

Mr Quinn was also deputy chief executive of CASA until 2009.

He confirmed that those in the accident were considering taking legal action against Pel-Air.

An independent safety expert, Bryan Aherne, told the committee today that he believed Captain James had been “singled out grossly unfairly”.

He said the draft reports had “been completely changed” from the final report, “where we go from one situation where the operator [Pel Air] had limited oversight of its operations, and it was completely changed, to the operator complied”.

“We need to have transparency into how the ATSB came to that finding in such a short time,” he said. “CASA and the ATSB must necessarily co-operate but it doesn’t mean they lie in the same bed.”

Mr Aherne also said that the ATSB had not mentioned in its final report the failure of the plane’s lifejacket lights. “How that information is omitted is bizarre,” he said.

Parts of the hearing today were conducted in private.

Officials from the pilots union, the ATSB and CASA will appear before the committee later today.