GRAND WASH CLIFFS — Five tourists returning from a Grand Canyon sightseeing tour were killed Friday afternoon in a helicopter crash at Grand Wash Cliffs. The pilot was also killed in the accident and a sixth tourist was in critical condition at a Las Vegas hospital.
"Judging from the extensiveness of the wreckage, it’s pretty amazing there was even one survivor," Steve Johnson, a spokesman for the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "The helicopter was pretty devastated, just pretty much demolished."
The tourists were all members of a New York family. The survivor is a 23-year-old woman from Brooklyn, N.Y. The six victims were reported dead at the scene, although their bodies were not recovered until Saturday morning for religious reasons.
The pilot was 27-year-old Kevin Innocenti.
The crash of the Eurocopter AS350, operated by Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters of Las Vegas, went down at 2:35 p.m., for unknown reasons. The crash site is a barren area four miles east of Meadview, a small community near Lake Mead. The area is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and is outside Grand Canyon National Park boundaries.
In a statement released late Friday, Papillon Airways Inc., said the cause of the crash had not been determined, adding "our profound sympathy and deep-felt sorrow goes out to the families and friends of the passengers."
Papillon called off Saturday’s scheduled flights out of Las Vegas out of respect for the families.
Among those responding to the accident were helicopters from Grand Canyon National Park, the Arizona Department of Public Safety and Papillon.
GCNP responded with a copter featuring technical and short-haul capabilities for possible survivors. Once on the scene, rangers provided logistical support for BLM and Mohave County officials.
The helicopter was en route from Grand Canyon to Las Vegas and crashed in a site that is part of a regular flight path. Many of those flights land at Grand Canyon West.
A BLM spokesman told a newspaper that the initial investigation of the crash site was complicated and possibly delayed as National Park Service rangers and BLM officials tried to determine the crash site’s jurisdiction with officers from the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office and the Arizona Department of Public Safety.
The National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration were investigating the crash last weekend.
It was the deadliest Grand Canyon air tour crash since Feb. 13, 1995, when a Las Vegas Airline scenic charter went down northeast of Tusayan, killing eight people.
It’s the first fatal crash near Grand Canyon since Aug. 3, 1999, when a private plane accident killed two people in a spot between the South Entrance Station and Tusayan.
About 90,000 helicopter and fixed-wing airplane tours fly over the canyon annually.
GCNP also responds to SR64 crash
Friday afternoon’s helicopter crash came just one day after a tour bus crash 13 miles north of Williams on State Route 64. That accident, which injured 50 people, involved the collision of an ABC Holiday Tours bus with a Salvation Army van pulling a trailer.
DPS officer Mark Hall reported that the bus crossed the centerline and struck the rear of the trailer being towed by the van.
Driver Zhi L. Liag, 48, told authorities he was leaning over to pick up something. The bus carried mostly Chinese tourists, but there were also Americans aboard.
One lane of SR64 was closed for several hours for the investigation. Both lanes were closed for about 30 minutes for removal of the bus.
GCNP's Helicopter 210 with two paramedics, a helicopter manager and pilot responded to the accident. When the aircraft arrived on the scene, the helicopter manager was utilized to direct the on-site helispot. There were four helicopters involved in the rescue effort.
The NPS helicopter transported one critical patient to Flagstaff Medical Center and returned to the scene to transport a second non-critical patient to FMC. A ground ambulance from GCNP also responded and transported two patients to FMC.