Poor conditions ‘hampered’ rescue efforts in fatal Grand Canyon helicopter crash
Dramatic images of the scene show the wreckage at the bottom of a steep rocky canyon, engulfed in bright orange flames with thick billowing smoke.
Survivors of the fatal Grand Canyon helicopter crash which killed three Britons had to wait more than eight hours to be rescued, according to reports.
US media said Becky Dobson, 27, Jason Hill, 32, and Stuart Hill, 30, died in the incident at 5.20pm local time on Saturday.
Ellie Milward, 29, Jonathan Udall, 32, and Jennifer Barham, 39, were airlifted to University Medical Centre in Las Vegas, Nevada, along with pilot Scott Booth, 42, according to Arizona Central.
Dramatic images of the crash site show the wreckage lying at the bottom of a steep rocky canyon, engulfed in bright orange flames with thick billowing smoke.
One appears to show a female survivor, wearing jeans and a white top, fleeing the scene as the fire rages behind her.
But according to local media it took rescuers more than eight hours to get to the survivors and they were not airlifted from the scene until around 2am on Sunday.
Lionel Douglass had been attending a wedding on a bluff about 1,000 yards away from where the helicopter burst into flames.
He told ABC News: “I had taken my phone and I was zooming in to see if I could see anybody and a lady walked out of the flames and I just lost it.”
He said he saw the helicopter fall between and hit the bottom with the “biggest explosion you ever heard and then flames like you never seen before”.
A series of smaller blasts followed, according to reports.
This morning, our hearts and our prayers are with the victims of this very tragic crash in the Grand Canyon, as well as all the first responders and medics involved in critical rescue efforts https://t.co/ZSgTkLxpXs— Doug Ducey (@dougducey) February 11, 2018
Hualapai Police chief Francis Bradley said: “It’s a very tragic incident.
“Yesterday, we were hampered by severe weather conditions, we had gusts up to 50mph. The terrain where the crash occurred … is extremely rugged.”
He told ABC News the tour originated in Boulder City, Nevada, and that a storm was rolling into the area at the time of the crash.
Mr Bradley described the weather conditions as “not normal”, but said no flight restrictions were in place.
He told News3LV that darkness and an initial lack of air support hampered the rescue effort.
Las Vegas photographer Teddy Fujimoto witnessed the crash as he photographed a wedding.
He said he immediately saw two women in their 30s or 40s alive and conscious.
Mr Fujimoto described a chaotic scene, with the path down to the site as dangerous.
The helicopter tour was run by Papillon. The company’s website states: “With more than 50 years flying the Grand Canyon and beyond, Papillon is the largest and most experienced helicopter tour operator in the world. “
It further says: “At Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters, safety is our top priority.”
In a statement reported by local news, Papillon Group chief executive Brenda Halvorson said: “It is with extreme sadness we extend our heartfelt sympathy to the families involved in this accident.
“Our top priority is the care and needs of our passengers and our staff.”
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer said the Eurocopter EC130 crashed in unknown circumstances and sustained heavy damage.
An investigation will take place.
The circumstances surrounding the crash – on the West Rim of the Canyon – are currently unknown.
A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: “We are providing support to the families of six British visitors involved in a helicopter accident at the Grand Canyon on February 10, and we are in close contact with the US emergency services.”