Helicopter Crash Kills 6 After Grand Canyon Tour


The pilot and five passengers were killed Friday afternoon when a helicopter crashed while returning from a tourist flight over the Grand Canyon.

A 23-year-old woman survived the crash. She was listed in critical condition after being airlifted to the University Medical Center in Las Vegas with burns over 80% of her body.

The passengers were family members from the New York City area vacationing here together, according to sources close to the investigation.


They were staying at an upscale Las Vegas Strip hotel, sources said, and had signed on for a three-hour, $317-per-person tour featuring a champagne picnic along the Colorado River.

The helicopter, a Eurocopter AS350, crashed at 2:30 p.m. into a ridgeline above the Arizona high desert, about 60 miles east of Las Vegas.

Little remained of the aircraft. Some wreckage was strewn more than 50 feet across the rise, on land governed by the federal Bureau of Land Management outside the Grand Canyon National Park.

The first helicopters to reach the scene were from the same tour company, following the same flight pattern. They were ordered away so emergency aircraft could approach, said Bert Byers, spokesman for the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

Friday evening, the National Transportation Safety Board was preparing to send crash investigators to the scene from Los Angeles. They are expected to take over the investigation today, an NTSB spokesman said.

There were no immediate clues to the cause of the crash, one of several in and around the Grand Canyon in recent years.


“We have no idea what went wrong,” said Laura Brown, public relations chief for the Federal Aviation Administration in Washington.

The helicopter was operated by Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters, which is headquartered in Arizona but flies more than a dozen tours daily from McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas.

Company officials declined comment Friday afternoon. Family and friends of the victims were sequestered inside the company’s airport offices, at the south end of the Strip, and were comforted later in the day by an Orthodox rabbi.

“They are in an incredible state of shock,” Rabbi Felipe Goodman, of Temple Beth Sholom of Las Vegas, told Associated Press. “They’re trying to put together and see what’s next.”

Five helicopter companies operate tours out of McCarran airport, collectively offering about 90 tours daily over the Grand Canyon, said airport spokeswoman Hilarie Grey.

The Grand Canyon and the desert around it have been the site of multiple helicopter and fixed-wing plane crashes over the years.


Because of the danger of flying below or at the level of the canyon rim, and because of protests from environmentalists about disruptions to the canyon’s quiet, the federal government in 1987 banned flights below the rim and restricted planes to certain corridors. Restrictions have been added since then.

In 1986, a sightseeing airplane and a helicopter collided several hundred feet below the canyon’s lower north rim, killing all 20 on board the plane and the five in the helicopter.

Most of the deadly accidents have involved small sightseeing airplanes. Among them: one in 1995 that killed eight of 10 people aboard, a 1992 crash that killed all 10 aboard, one in 1991 that killed all seven on board and one in 1989 that killed 10 and injured 11.

The most recent helicopter crash occurred in 1999, killing the pilot and injuring a second person, also a pilot. There were no tourists aboard.

About 750,000 tourists take about 50,000 flights over the park each year, officials estimate. Travel experts consider the Grand Canyon the helicopter tour capital of the country, feeding a $100-million-plus industry.

On its Web site, Papillon boasts it is the world’s largest helicopter sightseeing company. Its largest helicopter, the one that crashed Friday, has a glass floor. The Web site notes, too, that should a helicopter engine fail, “the rotor blades will continue to turn at normal operating speeds, allowing the pilot to make a fully controlled landing.”



Gorman reported from Las Vegas and Malnic from Los Angeles. Times researcher John Jackson also contributed to this story.


Deadly Crash

An AS350 helicopter returning from the Grand Canyon crashed five miles east of Meadview, Ariz., killing the pilot and five passengers and severely injuring one passenger. The AS350 helicopter:

* Maximum capacity: 1 pilot plus 6 passengers

* Manufacturer: Eurocopter