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Tour Plane, Copter Collide Over Grand Canyon; 25 Die : Aircraft Fall to Earth in Flames

From Times Wire Services

A sightseeing helicopter and a twin-engine plane collided over the Grand Canyon today and plunged in flames to the canyon floor, killing all 25 tourists and crew members aboard both craft, authorities said.

“Our preliminary information indicates five people were aboard the helicopter and 20 people were aboard the twin-engine and all 25 are reported dead,” said Gary Mucho, chief of the National Transportation Safety Board in Los Angeles.

It was the first major plane crash in the United States this year.

The plane was a twin-engine Otter belonging to Grand Canyon Airlines, operating out of Las Vegas, and the Bell 206 helicopter was owned by Helitech, which flies out of Tusayan, Ariz., on the canyon’s South Rim.

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Clear, Hot Weather

The weather was “clear and hot” when the aircraft collided about 9:40 a.m. MST over Crystal Rapids on the Colorado River, which winds through the bottom of the scenic canyon, Mucho said.

Crystal Rapids is about 12 miles west of Grand Canyon Village on the canyon’s South Rim.

Witnesses said the two aircraft plunged to the floor of the canyon in a fiery crash. Smoke from the wreckage of the two aircraft could be seen hours later.

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A worker at the Grand Canyon Airport tower said that after the collision, “fires were seen, along with numerous parts of the aircraft. No survivors were seen.”

“We got a report of a smoke column. Since we’re in a high fire mode right now, our first reaction was to check it right away,” said John Guthrie, deputy superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park.

“We discovered it was a plane on fire. We put one park ranger down on site. As part of that operation we discovered a second column of smoke. We immediately knew it was a midair collision.”

Crash in Steep Terrain

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He said the aircraft crashed in steep terrain, making the recovery of bodies difficult.

The crash came almost 30 years after an airliner accident over the canyon in which 128 people died. At the time, it was the worst airline disaster in history.

On June 30, 1956, a United DC-7 airliner with 58 people aboard and a TWA Super Constellation airliner carrying 70 people collided in midair during flights from Los Angeles and crashed in the canyon.

In August, 1983, a sightseeing plane dodging thunderstorms on a flight to the Grand Canyon slammed into the face of a mountain overlooking the chasm, killing all 10 people aboard.

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There are an estimated 50,000 flights each year over the canyon, including those mounted by 40 companies in five states, according to Grand Canyon National Park.

Limits on Flights Sought

Environmentalists, hikers and others have called for limits on flights over the park, saying the noise disturbs the canyon’s tranquillity.

The National Park Service has rejected proposed limits on days and times of flights around the canyon but is studying proposals to ban planes below the canyon’s rim in an effort to reduce noise.

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