Federal authorities are investigating a helicopter crash that killed three British tourists and severely injured four others, including the pilot, Saturday evening near the Grand Canyon.
The helicopter, owned and operated by Las Vegas-based Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters, crashed in the Quartermaster Canyon on the Hualapai Reservation in a remote area of northwestern Arizona about 5:20 p.m. Saturday.
The three passengers killed in the helicopter crash were identified as Becky Dobson, 27, Stuart Hill, 30, and Jason Hill, 32. According to the Associated Press, Ms. Dobson’s father told Britain’s Press Association that the three were part of a group of friends from the U.K. visiting Las Vegas for Stuart Hill’s birthday.
The survivors of the crash were identified as Ellie Milward, 29, Jonathan Udall, 32, Jennifer Barham, 39, and pilot Scott Booth, 42, all of whom were airlifted to a Las Vegas hospital after a long and difficult rescue effort that stretched into the early morning hours Sunday.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are investigating the Papillon helicopter crash. An FAA spokesperson said the aircraft was a Eurocopter EC130, the same type of helicopter that crashed on the Hawaiian island of Molokai in November 2011, killing the pilot and four tourists.
A witness who was doing a wedding shoot at the time of the crash told the AP that the crash was visible from the edge of a gulch about 600 feet above. He said that a series of explosions, flames, and smoke erupted from the wreckage below. He described one of the survivors as “pretty much burned all over” and others with severe burn injuries and “covered in blood.”
Investigators haven’t said what may have caused the helicopter crash. National Weather Service meteorologists in Flagstaff and Phoenix said winds were blowing an estimated 10 mph (16 kph) with gusts of 20 mph (32 kph) around the time of the crash.
Rescue efforts were thwarted by the remote location of the crash deep in the canyon, windy conditions, and darkness.
“It is with extreme sadness we extend our heartfelt sympathy to the families involved in this accident,” Papillon Group CEO Brenda Halvorson said in a statement. “Our top priority is the care and needs of our passengers and our staff.”
Papillon Airways’ website says the company flies about 600,000 passengers annually around the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, and other tours. The company says that it “abides by flight safety rules and regulations that substantially exceed the regulations required by the Federal Aviation Administration.”
According to the AP, a Grand Canyon helicopter tour operated by Papillon crashed near Meadview, Arizona, in August 2001, killing the pilot and five passengers. “An NTSB report issued in 2004 blamed the pilot’s decision to descend too fast and too close to the scenic Grand Wash Cliffs,” the AP reported.