U.S. Officials Ask Stricter Control of Grand Canyon Flights
Officials of the National Park Service joined a California congressman Thursday in calling for stricter regulation of Grand Canyon excursion flights in the wake of the collision of two sightseeing aircraft that killed 25 people.
“We . . . think that it’s very necessary that flights down below the canyon be eliminated completely,” National Park Service Director William Mott said on NBC’s “Today” show. “At the present time, both helicopters and fixed-wing planes are not to fly below 2,000 feet. But that’s very difficult to control. We think there has got to be more strict regulations than that particular regulation.”
His sentiments were echoed--and amplified--by Richard Marks, superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park, who appeared on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
“Our problem,” Marks said, “is that beyond the air tour operators, we have military aircraft that fly through the canyon, which are of great concern.”
And Rep. Richard Lehman (D-Calif.), a member of the House subcommittee on national parks and recreation, said Wednesday’s tragedy may have been the final bit of evidence needed to end all unregulated flights over national parks.
“It is clear,” he said, “that the days of voluntary supervision and self-regulation of these flights are over. As is so often the case, it takes a tragedy like this to point out the need for some reasonable safeguards.”
Spokesmen for aerial sightseeing companies were not impressed, however.
James L. Kahan, executive vice president of Grand Canyon Helicopters, called it a “cheap shot” for opponents of canyon flights--whose primary concern has been noise--to now attack such flights on safety grounds.
Dan O’Connell, co-owner of Helitech Inc., said many tour passengers are people who physically cannot hike or raft through the canyon.
“I think the hundreds of thousands of people flown over the canyon have the same rights as the people who hike into the canyon,” he said.
Canyon sightseeing tours by the two companies whose aircraft were lost in the tragedy--Grand Canyon Airlines and Helitech Inc.--were canceled after the collision. But both planned to resume flights today.
Meanwhile, flags flew at half staff in the canyon rim town of Tusayan as the last of the black plastic body bags--brought to the rim by a military helicopter--was placed on a truck early Thursday afternoon for transport to the coroner’s office in Flagstaff.
And a team from the National Transportation and Safety Board convened a meeting to begin searching for the cause of the collision of a DeHavilland Twin Otter airplane and a Bell 206 helicopter. Rachel Halterman, a board spokeswoman, said investigators were not expected to visit the crash site until today.