A sightseeing helicopter that crashed in Grand Canyon, killing three British tourists and injuring four others, drifted from its designated landing site and spun 360 degrees twice in the opposite direction of its main rotor, federal investigators said in an early report on the accident.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is still in the fact-finding phase of its investigation, but its report on the final movements of the Airbus EC130 B4 helicopter offers some insight about the potential problems of the aircraft.
The helicopter involved in the Feb. 10 crash was owned and operated by Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters of Boulder City, Nevada. The aircraft was carrying six friends from the U.K. who were celebrating a birthday in Las Vegas when it crashed in the Quartermaster Canyon on the Hualapai Nation in Arizona.
The helicopter crash killed Becky Dobson, 27, Stuart Hill, 30, and Jason Hill, 32. The crash survivors 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. Reports say the survivors suffered serious burn injuries in the crash.
While the helicopter crash remains under investigation, one lawyer experienced in the litigation of helicopter accidents told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the aircraft’s anti-clockwise spin just before it crashed “is the hallmark of a malfunctioning tail rotor.”
“If you have tail rotor malfunction, then the helicopter will turn in the opposite direction of the main rotor rotation,” the attorney told the Review-Journal.
The reported explosions and subsequent fire that killed some of the passengers and burned the others were likely caused by the helicopter’s lack of a crash-resistant fuel system.
Although the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has required crash-resistant fuel systems since 1994, a loophole in the regulation allows manufacturers to keep making helicopters with design certificates approved before the rule went into effect. Thus, the EC130 involved in the crash was built in 2010 but it was based on another model that was certified in 1977, so it is highly unlikely the helicopter had a crash-resistant system.
According to the Review-Journal, Airbus Helicopters has also said that a crash-resistant fuel system was not standard equipment on the model of helicopter that crashed in the Grand Canyon. Such a system probably wouldn’t have prevented a fire, but it could have given the occupants a chance to escape if they survived the initial impact, the Review-Journal said.