The bodies of a pilot and a French woman he was taking on a joy flight have been recovered from the wreckage of a plane on the seabed off the Gold Coast.

Pilot Alexander Rae died doing what he loved, his wife says.

Jimmy, as he was known, was flying a 21-year-old French woman on a scenic joy ride in a Tiger Moth when the biplane crashed into the water off South Stradbroke Island, killing them both

Campers and resort guests saw the red and white plane spear into the water in an almost vertical position about 400 metres off the island, near the Gold Coast, on Monday afternoon.

In his last radio communication, Jimmy said: “Conducting aerobatics over 3500 feet”, The Courier-Mail reported.

Debris from the crash began to wash up on the beach as a frantic search for survivors in choppy waters wore on into the evening until it was suspended in the darkness.

At dawn on Tuesday underwater visibility had improved and a few hours later police divers using sonar found the plane’s fuselage lying on the seabed.

The pilot and his passenger’s bodies were inside.

Jimmy’s wife Alice thanked search crews and well wishers.

“On behalf of all of Jimmy’s family and friends, we would like thank everyone for their support and well wishes,” she said in a statement.

“We all know Jimmy died doing what he loved.”

The family of the French tourist is yet to make a statement.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau is investigating the crash and has appealed to anyone who saw it, or picked up debris that washed ashore, to come forward.