The helicopter industry continues to put peoples’ lives at risk by failing to correct a serious safety deficiency, said a lawyer representing four of the five British tourists killed when their helicopter crashed in the Grand Canyon in February 2018.
“This accident was survivable. This accident was preventable. Further and future innocent lives are at risk without adequate crash-resistant fuel systems,” said U.K. attorney James Healy-Pratt, who is representing the families of four of the five victims, at a pre-inquest review in West Sussex coroner’s court in Crawley, England.
Rebecca Dobson, 26, her boyfriend, Stuart Hill, 29, and his brother, Jason Hill, 31, died at the scene of the Feb. 10 helicopter crash. Their friends Jonathan Udall, 31, and 29-year-old Eleanor Milward, who were on their honeymoon, died later from extensive burns and other injuries at a Las Vegas hospital.
Jason Hill’s partner, Jennifer Dorricott, 39, was severely injured in the crash, as was the helicopter’s pilot, Scott Booth, 42, who lost both of his legs.
Mr. Healy-Pratt said the helicopter industry has known about the dangers of non-crash-resistant fuel tanks for two decades but hasn’t acted to make life-saving improvements. Helicopters can be fitted with non-combustible fuel tanks, but more often than not they aren’t, and weak safety regulations don’t require them.
“A helicopter can crash and if the fuel system is not robust enough people will burn to death and that is what has happened over the past 20 years,” he told the court, according to The Guardian. He also blamed “insufficient regulatory action” by E.U. and U.S. authorities.
Days after the Grand Canyon crash, Papillon Airways, the company that operated the Airbus EC130 B4 sightseeing helicopter that crashed, added StandardAero crash-resistant fuel tanks to many helicopters in its fleet.
In the U.S., the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which can recommend safety improvements based on its investigations but lacks regulatory and enforcement authority, has urged the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to make crash-resistant fuel systems mandatory on all helicopters.
The FAA agreed to require the crash-resistant fuel systems, but only for helicopters newly certified after 1994. This rule, however, leaves a giant loophole that allows some helicopter manufacturers to avoid the requirement because new helicopters based on model designs certified before 1994 can still be made without the crash-resistant fuel systems.
According to The Guardian, Mr. Udall’s parents have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Papillon and Airbus, claiming their son would have survived had crash-resistant fuel systems been installed.
The NTSB is likely to publish a report on the accident in February and another pre-inquest review will take place in the U.K. in March.