Grand Canyon crash site reached

/ Source: The Associated Press

Recovery crews hiked into a rugged area of the Grand Canyon on Sunday to reach the remains of a sightseeing helicopter that crashed, killing all seven people aboard. The helicopter, operating out of Las Vegas, went down after noon Saturday in rugged terrain about 60 miles east of Las Vegas.

THE FRENCH-made Aerospatiale helicopter had taken off from the Grand Canyon West Airport with the pilot and six passengers aboard and had been headed for the bottom of the canyon.

Two of the passengers were Japanese citizens and at least some of the others were German tourists, said Carlos Rooks, a spokesman for the Mojave County Sheriff’s Office. He said the pilot was also Japanese. According to the Japanese consulate in Los Angeles, the pilot had a green card to work in the United States.

Authorities did not immediately release the identities of the victims pending family notification.

Rooks said recovery crews had to hike to the crash site Sunday because the terrain was only accessible by foot. The National Transportation Safety Board and FAA were among the agencies investigating.

Three investigators were looking for a cause of the crash, said Terry Williams, an NTSB spokesman in Washington, D.C. He said he had received no information from the scene by early Sunday afternoon or any information about any previous incidents involving the helicopter.

The helicopter was owned by Las Vegas-based Sundance Helicopters Inc., according to the sheriff’s office. Sundance officials did not return several calls seeking comment Sunday, but a person who answered the phone said the company would release a statement later in the day.

The accident was the second deadliest canyon tour crash since 1995, when a plane went down while trying to return to Grand Canyon Airport, killing eight people.

It followed by two years an August 2001 crash in the same general area of a sightseeing helicopter owned by Papillon Airways and Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters. Six people aboard that helicopter were killed. A federal report said it didn’t appear the helicopter suffered mechanical failure before it slammed into steep cliffs.

Other recent helicopter crashes near the Grand Canyon include:

May 2003, a Grand Canyon tour helicopter crashed about 15 miles east of Meadview, not far from Sunday’s crash site, injuring the pilot. No one else was on board. That helicopter was also owned and operated by Papillon. The sightseeing helicopter crashed in a remote desert area under unknown circumstances.

September 2002: A Las Vegas-based sightseeing helicopter crashed near the Grand Canyon. A Dutch tourist’s leg was broken, but five other passengers and the pilot were unharmed. A preliminary federal report blamed hydraulic failure for the crash.

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