A helicopter tour turned tragic on Saturday, February 10, 2018, when a helicopter carrying six British tourists crashed in the Grand Canyon. Three tourists died, and four people, including the pilot, suffered critical injuries. Officials are now investigating what caused the Eurocopter EC-130 to crash, but one important factor in the fatalities could be that the helicopter burst into flames upon impact.
Victims of the Eurocopter EC-130 Helicopter Crash Were British
The six British tourists were friends celebrating a 30th birthday when they boarded the helicopter near Las Vegas, headed for a busy area of the Grand Canyon. As the sightseeing helicopter, operated by Papillon Airways, flew over the western section of the Grand Canyon, in an area near Quartermaster Canyon on the Hualapai Nation, it crashed for unknown reasons.
Officials identified the deceased victims as:
- Jason Hill, 32
- Stuart Hill, 30
- Becky Dobson, 27
The four injured victims were:
- Scott Booth, 42, the pilot
- Jennifer Barham, 39
- Johnathan Udall, 32
- Ellie Milward, 29
A coroner conducted autopsies on the three victims and reportedly listed the cause of death as “multiple injuries due to a helicopter crash.” The findings are preliminary, and a full post-mortem report will not be available for up to six weeks.
Although the crash occurred at around 5:20 p.m. local time, it took hours for responders to rescue the survivors and remove the bodies of the deceased victims. Rescue operations were affected by strong winds and dark conditions, as well as rugged terrain that took 20 minutes to hike to the crash scene. The survivors were flown in military aircraft to University Medical Center in Las Vegas.
Witnesses Describe the Horrific Helicopter Crash
Witnesses to the crash described a horrific scene, with screaming and at least one explosion.
“I saw these two ladies run out of [the wreckage], and then an explosion. One of the survivors…looked all bloody. Her clothes probably were burnt off,” Teddy Fujimoto told KSNV. “The ladies were screaming … It was just horrible.”
Lionel Douglass was attending a wedding near the crash when he saw the helicopter fall between the mountains. He described the aftermath as “the biggest explosion you ever heard and then flames like you never seen before.” He said he saw a woman walk out of the flames, collapse to the ground and yell the name “Jason.”
Katie Kineally was at the Grand Canyon on a helicopter tour to celebrate her mom’s 90th birthday. As her tour was stopped, the other tour crashed. Kineally, a nurse, ran to help. She described hearing “inhuman screams of pain,” and described the scene as “horrific.”
First responders administered IVs following the crash, but as they waited for rescue teams the pain medication ran out.
“[The survivors] were so brave because there were times when we had to say, ‘we don’t have any more pain medication right now. We’re going to just have to have you focus and breathe for me, breathe for me, hold my hand, keep talking to me,’ and you know, that was probably the hardest part,” Kineally told Las Vegas Now.
Kineally was on scene helping survivors for nine hours, including holding the hand of a woman whose significant other didn’t survive the crash.
“She just kept screaming his name over and over, wanting to know what happened,” Kineally said.
EC-130 Helicopter May Not Have Had Fire Resistant Fuel System
One important factor investigators will explore is whether the helicopter involved had a fuel system designed to prevent it from catching fire in a crash. Although Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations require newly-certified helicopters-after 1994-to have such fuel systems, new versions of helicopters that were designed before 1994 are not bound by those regulations. The EC-130 was not required to have a fire-resistant fuel system.
Fire resistant systems could give crash survivors precious seconds or minutes to escape from a wreckage.
Investigators will also explore whether high winds, mechanical failure, or pilot error were factors in the tragedy. Unfortunately, the helicopter suffered substantial damage in the crash and the fire. It will be moved to Phoenix when investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are done with the on-scene analysis.
Tribal Land Subject to Less Regulation
The crash occurred on tribal land in the Grand Canyon, which is subject to fewer regulations than Grand Canyon National Park. As a result, the Hualapai Tribe is not bound by flight time, route or total trip regulations. Helicopter tours in the area were temporarily halted.
Families of EC-130 Crash Victims Pay Tribute to Their Loved Ones
Two of the deceased, Jason and Stuart Hill, were brothers who family remembered as being “remarkable people.”
“We always said they were so close they were like twins and we will find some support in knowing they were with each other to the last,” read a statement from Rev. David and Sandra Hill, parents to Jason and Stuart. The Hills further said their hearts went out to Becky Dobson’s family.
Peter Dobson, Becky’s father, said she was “full of life.” Meanwhile, Becky’s co-worker remembered her as a beautiful person inside and out.