Saturday, February 10, 2018

Loss of Control in Flight: Eurocopter EC 130B4, N155GC; fatal accident occurred February 10, 2018 in Peach Springs, Arizona

Aviation Accident Final Report - National Transportation Safety Board 

The National Transportation Safety Board traveled to the scene of this accident.

Additional Participating Entities:
Federal Aviation Administration; District of Columbia
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Las Vegas, Nevada
Federal Aviation Administration; Fort Worth, Texas
Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses; Toulouse, FN
Papillon Airways Inc; Boulder City, Nevada
Airbus Helicopters; Grand Prairie, Texas
Safran Helicopter Engines; Grand Prairie, Texas

Investigation Docket - National Transportation Safety Board:

Location: Peach Springs, Arizona
Accident Number: WPR18MA087
Date & Time: February 10, 2018, 17:19 Local
Registration: N155GC
Aircraft: Eurocopter EC130 
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Defining Event: Loss of control in flight 
Injuries: 5 Fatal, 2 Serious
Flight Conducted Under: Part 135: Air taxi & commuter - Non-scheduled - Sightseeing


The pilot of the helicopter was conducting his third air tour flight of the day, transporting six passengers to the operator's plateau landing site, known as Quartermaster, on the south bank of the Colorado River within the Grand Canyon. He was appropriately rated for this flight and was experienced executing approaches and landings at Quartermaster. Following an uneventful flight to the area, the pilot began a descent and approach from across the river to a ravine on the west side of the landing site. The accident helicopter was the ninth of ten helicopters scheduled to land at the site that afternoon, and because all of the pads on the east side of the site were occupied, the pilot initiated a descending left turn toward a landing pad located on the west side of the site, aligning the helicopter on an east-northeasterly heading. Photographs of the landing site windsock near the time of the accident indicated winds at magnitudes of 15 kts or greater from the north-northwest, resulting in tailwind conditions during approaches to the west pads. A pilot on the ground at the landing site reported that the accident helicopter began to decelerate as it approached the landing pads and entered a nose-up attitude, then turned left toward the landing pads, transitioned through several pitch oscillations, and drifted aft. The left turn continued through 720° of rotation before the helicopter descended into a canyon just west of the landing pads and impacted terrain. Photos indicated that the helicopter’s final impact in the canyon was immediately followed by a postcrash fire. Postaccident examination of the helicopter and engine revealed no evidence of mechanical anomalies that would have precluded normal operation.

Two pilots who landed just before the accident conducted their approaches in a similar direction as the accident pilot and both later reported that they encountered adverse wind. The pilot who landed just before the accident reported that he encountered wind conditions that necessitated full right pedal and nearly resulted in a loss of yaw control. The accident helicopter’s flight characteristics at the time of the accident would have included slowing airspeed, a high power setting, and a relative wind position that were all conducive to a loss of tail rotor effectiveness (LTE), thus it is likely that the loss of control was the direct result of LTE.

The landing site was located on a plateau and provided limited approach options due to its local topography. At the time of the accident, potential demarcation lines (boundaries of updrafts and downdrafts) would have been on the pinnacles of ridges located along the approach to the Quartermaster west pads. Figure 8 shows a conceptual illustration of potential demarcation lines and wind directions based on the terrain and wind environment present around the accident site at the accident time, and suggests areas where downdrafts, updrafts and turbulence could have impacted the accident flight’s approach to the landing site.

Figure 8. Conceptual display of demarcation lines at accident site

The proximity of other pilots and passengers who witnessed the accident resulted in an immediate response to aid the occupants of the helicopter; however, the remote location of the accident site and communication difficulties between on-scene and outside resources made rescue coordination challenging and victim transport by helicopter to the hospital did not begin until about 6 hours after the
accident. Although all seven occupants survived the impact, they all sustained significant burn injuries, and three of the occupants were likely unable to egress the helicopter. The most significant factor affecting occupant survival was the immediate postcrash fire. The accident helicopter was not equipped, nor was it required to be equipped, with a crash-resistant fuel system. Due to a lack of data regarding the crash dynamics and impact forces, the effectiveness of such a system, if installed, in delaying the onset of a postcrash fire could not be determined.

The only source of local wind information at Quartermaster at the time of the accident was a windsock, which can only display wind speeds up to 15 kts. Further, windsocks cannot indicate the presence of downdrafts, turbulence, or any other local environmental conditions that may affect flight safety, particularly when landing in a confined area.

The operator provided its pilots with a morning weather briefing on the day of the accident, which advised of gusty wind conditions in the area of the accident site forecast to increase throughout the afternoon. Weather advisories issued after the morning weather briefing, several hours before the accident, indicated a cold front proceeding through the area of the accident site with associated wind gusts and turbulence. This information was likely not captured by the operator and distributed to its pilots even though some of the forecasts included wind conditions above the maximum wind outlined in the company's general operations manual (GOM). Because there was no additional wind information at the landing site beyond the windsock, it could not be determined the actual wind conditions at the landing site at the time of the accident; however, pilots who landed before the accident pilot estimated the wind to be 15 to 20 knots, which is below that specified in the GOM. Although the morning briefing was not intended to be the pilots' sole source of weather information, it was likely the primary weather information the accident pilot received before the accident, as he had recently flown to Quartermaster and is not likely to have rechecked the weather.

Probable Cause and Findings

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:
A loss of tail rotor effectiveness, the pilot’s subsequent loss of helicopter control, and collision with terrain during an approach to land in gusting, tailwind conditions in an area of potential downdrafts and turbulence.


Aircraft Prop/rotor parameters - Capability exceeded
Aircraft Yaw control - Not attained/maintained
Environmental issues Tailwind - Effect on operation
Personnel issues Aircraft control - Pilot

Factual Information


On February 10, 2018, about 1719 mountain standard time (mst), an Airbus Helicopters EC130 B4 helicopter, N155GC, was destroyed when it was involved in an accident near Peach Springs, Arizona. The pilot and one passenger sustained serious injuries, and five passengers were fatally injured. The helicopter was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 136 air tour flight.

On the day of the accident, the pilot performed a canyon landing, and an air tour flight before the accident flight. All of the day's flights departed Boulder City Municipal Airport (BVU), Boulder City, Nevada. Both the second flight and the accident flight had a destination of Quartermaster, an unimproved landing site regularly used by the operator within the Grand Canyon's Quartermaster
Canyon. The pilot's second flight of the day took place in the early afternoon and returned at 1455. The accident flight departed at 1642.

The accident helicopter reached the Hoover Dam about 1652 and entered the Grand Canyon West Special Flight Rules Area 50-2 about 1713, where the pilot flew the standard helicopter route known as the “Green 4 route.” The last radar return was captured at 1717 and depicted the helicopter about 3.5 nautical miles (nm) west of the accident site, consistent with a descent into the canyon to Quartermaster.

The accident helicopter was one of ten helicopters scheduled to land at the site on the afternoon of the accident. The tour operation intended for the ten helicopters to sequentially land at Quartermaster and allowed for them all to be present at the landing site at the same time. The accident pilot stated that, during the approach to Quartermaster, he noted that the eight helicopters that had already landed were facing in different directions, indicating variable wind conditions. The combination of the windsock direction, orientations of the parked helicopters, and unoccupied landing pads on the west side of the landing area prompted the pilot to conduct an approach from the west and touch down on one of the west landing pads. He recalled that the two helicopters that landed immediately before him were on the west landing pads facing east, the same as his chosen approach direction, and noted that the windsock indicated wind from the north/northeast.

The pilot stated that he normally remained on the north side of the Colorado River, crossing the river between 200 and 300 ft above ground level (agl) while approaching Quartermaster for landing. After crossing the river, he entered a left turning descent toward the landing area. (See figure 1.) He stated that, as he made the left turn, the helicopter encountered what he described as a “violent gust of wind” and began to spin, and as a result he was unable to maintain directional control. 

Figure 1. Graphical representation of typical approach to west pads

A Papillon pilot on the ground at Quartermaster watched the accident helicopter as it approached from across the river and assumed that the pilot planned to land on the west pads based on his approach path. He reported that the helicopter decelerated and then entered an approximate 15° nose-up pitch attitude. While maintaining altitude, the helicopter began a left turn toward the landing site. According to the witness, during the turn, the helicopter transitioned into a level attitude, followed by a nose-low attitude. He further reported that the helicopter began to drift aft as the left turn continued and returned to a level attitude before it rotated 360° and began a descent. After a second 360° rotation, the helicopter collided with terrain. A postimpact fire ensued.

Previous Approach and Landings at Quartermaster 

The first five helicopters to land at Quartermaster on the afternoon of the accident approached from the east and landed on the east pads, facing west. The next three helicopters landed on the west pads and used a similar approach as the accident helicopter. The tenth helicopter did not land due to the accident.


The pilot began his employment as a full-time pilot with Papillon Airways on June 3, 2013 and was trained by Papillon in the accident helicopter make and model. In 2014, the pilot transitioned into a role as a part-time pilot to pursue another career opportunity. At the time of the accident, the pilot’s primary occupation was in a different field (not as a pilot), but he continued flying for Papillon in a part-time capacity.

Company training records revealed that the pilot’s most recent line check in accordance with 14 CFR Part 135 was accomplished in December 2017 and showed satisfactory grades for all areas of the examination; however, the lead pilot who conducted a portion of the pilot’s training in preparation for this line check reported that he had marked the pilot’s performance “unsatisfactory.” Specifically, he noted that the pilot had experienced difficulty maneuvering the helicopter during high wind conditions and did not have enough altitude as he turned during 180° autorotations. The pilot passed his check ride with another lead pilot 1-2 days later.

According to the operator, at the time of the accident, the pilot had flown passengers into the Grand Canyon for them a total of 836 times, with 581 landings at Quartermaster. The pilot stated that he felt comfortable flying the Airbus Helicopters (formerly Eurocopter) EC130 B4 helicopter and landing at Quartermaster.

Prior to becoming an air tour pilot for Papillon, the pilot flew air tours in non-turbine powered helicopters in the Midwestern United States.


Fuel System Crash Resistance

On October 3, 1994, the FAA introduced improved fuel system crash resistance standards for newlycertified normal category helicopters. These standards, outlined in 14 CFR 27.952, are intended to minimize fuel spillage near ignition sources to improve the evacuation time needed for crew and passengers to escape a postcrash fire; however, they were not retroactively applicable to either existing helicopters or newly-manufactured helicopters whose certification and approval predated the revised standards.

The accident helicopter, manufactured in 2010, was not equipped, nor was it required to be equipped, with a fuel system meeting the contemporary fuel system crash resistance standards. An option to retrofit the EC130 B4 with a crash-resistant fuel system was approved by the FAA in December 2017. According to the operator, the retrofit kits were not available to them until April 2018, after which they completed a retrofit of their existing fleet of EC130 B4 and AS350-series helicopters by August 2018. Airbus Helicopters issued Safety Information Notice 3281-S-28 on November 5, 2018, which recommended that operators of the EC-130 and AS350 helicopters retrofit them with 14 CFR 27.852 compliant crash resistance fuel systems.

In July 2015, the NTSB issued Safety Recommendation A-15-12, which recommended that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) require the implementation of crash-resistant fuel system airworthiness standards for all newly manufactured rotorcraft, regardless of the original certification date, to reduce the risk of a postcrash fire in survivable accidents involving these rotorcraft. Section 317 of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 prohibits helicopters manufactured after April 5, 2020, from flying in US airspace unless certified with a crash-resistant fuel system. Pending further information on the FAA’s efforts to address this issue with rulemaking, the NTSB had classified A-15-12 as “Open – Acceptable Response.”


Surface Observations

The automated observation at Grand Canyon West Airport (1G4), located at an elevation of 4,816 ft mean sea level (msl) about 2.6 nm northwest of the accident site, recorded wind from 330° at 15 knots (kts) with gusts to 19 kts at 1705. At 1725, the station recorded wind from 330° at 16 kts with gusts to 22 kts. 

Papillon and another helicopter operator each owned a weather station about 2 miles north-northwest of the accident site, at elevations about 1,200 ft msl. At 1700, the Papillon station reported wind from the north-northwest at 11 kts; at 1710, the wind was from the north-northwest at 11 kts gusting to 19 kts. At 1720, the wind was from the north at 11 kts, and at 1730, the wind was from the north-northwest at 12 kts, gusting to 24 kts. (The wind was recorded in miles per hour; the data has been converted to kts in this report.)

The other station recorded a north-northwest wind at 10 kts gusting to 19 kts at 1700. The following three observations, recorded at 10-minute intervals, indicated northwest/north-northwest wind at 10 to 11 kts.

Quartermaster was equipped with a windsock that was located near the landing pads. A photo of the windsock taken about 1713 showed the windsock in its fully extended position, consistent with a wind velocity of 15 kts or greater. (See figure 2.)

Figure 2. Photograph taken at 1713 MST of windsock at Quartermaster

Papillion Pilots’ Recollections of Wind Conditions at Quartermaster

One pilot, who entered the canyon about 1646 and landed second in the sequence, encountered what he estimated to be a 20-kt headwind from the west while approaching an east pad. Another pilot, who entered the canyon about 1704 and landed fifth in the sequence, reported a northwest wind while landing on an east pad. He reported that he warned other pilots over the company radio frequency of a tailwind during the approach; however, only the sixth pilot to land recalled hearing this transmission. 

The pilot of the sixth helicopter to land, who entered the canyon about 1708, estimated variable winds between 15 and 20 kts.

The seventh pilot to land entered the canyon at 1709. During his approach to the west pads, his intended destination, he recalled that the helicopter's tail swung rapidly due to strong winds and he applied significant right pedal and crabbed the helicopter to maintain the approach.

The last helicopter to land before the accident entered the canyon at 1710 and touched down about 2 minutes before the accident occurred. The pilot had experience flying in mountainous terrain, knew of the presence of 15-20 kt winds from the east, and thus anticipated windshear during the approach. While turning toward the west pads, he experienced a strong wind that swung the nose of the helicopter about 90° to the left. The airspeed rapidly decayed and it required all of his effort to maintain control of the helicopter. As the helicopter began to descend, he increased collective to arrest the descent and was able to maintain control by pushing the cyclic forward and right to increase airspeed while applying full right pedal to keep the nose straight. He successfully landed the helicopter on one of the west pads.

The accident pilot reported that he tried to be conscious of the wind during previous flights into Quartermaster and added that he had never experienced a violent wind shift like the one he encountered on the day of the accident. When discussing making the final turn to approach into Quartermaster, the accident pilot stated that “ninety percent of days are…it’s calm and you don’t think twice.”

Weather Synopsis

A National Weather Service (NWS) Surface Analysis Chart for 1400 showed a low-pressure center along the Utah/New Mexico Border. A cold front extended west from this low-pressure center, and the accident site was located just ahead of the front. In a subsequent Surface Analysis Chart issued at 1700, the cold front had moved south of the accident site into north-central Arizona. Clear skies were reported across the region except in far northern Arizona and southern Utah, which indicated overcast sky conditions.

The NWS sustained wind speeds for the accident region showed forecasts for increasing wind speeds throughout the day.

Upper Air Data

A high-resolution rapid refresh model sounding valid for the accident location at 1700 was retrieved from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Air Resources Laboratory. The surface elevation of this model was run at 1,863 ft, about 400 ft higher than the terrain elevation of Quartermaster. The model showed wind from the north-northwest at speeds between 10 kts near the
surface to about 20 kts near about 5,000 ft. Sounding calculations showed low-level wind shear near the surface.

Weather Forecasts 

An Area Forecast Discussion (AFD) issued at 1637 reported a strong cold front and widespread wind gusts during the evening on the day of the accident. A previous AFD forecast a strong cold front to move through the region that afternoon and evening, with winds from the north to northeast at sustained magnitudes from 20-30 kts and gusts between 40-50 kts.

An urgent Weather Message was issued by the NWS at 1008 effective for the accident site at 1800. The Weather Message referenced an NWS wind advisory, which indicated that wind would increase in the late afternoon, peak overnight, and decrease through the following morning. The wind was forecast to be 20-30 mph sustained with gusts of 30-45 mph and possible isolated gusts to 55 mph.

A Graphical Forecast for Aviation was issued about 1500 and valid for 1700 that depicted clear sky conditions, a surface visibility of greater than 5 statute miles, and northwesterly surface wind gusts between 20 and 35 kts in the accident region.

The closest Center Weather Service Unit issued a Meteorological Impact Statement at 1545 to expect gusty westerly wind of 25 to 35 kts gusting to 40 to 45 kts over the mountains and deserts on the afternoon and evening of the accident in the area of the accident site.

Operator’s Weather Procedures

According to Papillon’s General Operations Manual (GOM), “For flights conducted within the Local Tour Area, the Director of Operations (DO), Chief Pilot, Director of Utility Operations, or a Management Designee will determine the weather based on information obtained from an approved source.” Further, the GOM stated that pilot weather briefings are conducted as part of a daily morning safety briefing and the weather information would be posted on the bulletin board of the pilot breakroom. These briefings must include adverse weather advisories (SIGMET/AIRMET), current weather (METARs), terminal forecasts (TAF), area forecast, winds and temperatures, pilot reports and NOTAMS, if applicable. According to the DO, the morning briefings were conducted by a lead pilot and occurred about 0545. The accident pilot’s shift started about 4 hours after the morning weather briefing; however, he initialed the briefing sheet to indicate that he had reviewed the provided weather information.

The operator’s daily weather briefing was a company-produced document that included current weather conditions, TAFs, area forecasts, NOTAMs, and AIRMETS/SIGMETS/PIREPS/TFRs. The briefing sheet for the day of the accident showed wind at 7 knots at 1G4. The area forecast portion of the briefing sheet included a synopsis that gusty winds from the north would spread southward and would be accompanied by a cold front but did not offer any further wind information. The briefing sheet also presented three NOTAMs, two AIRMETs, and the TAF for McCarran International Airport (LAS), Las Vegas, Nevada, which did not show any forecast weather events or wind conditions for Quartermaster.

In addition to the weather briefing, the operator had a pilot’s station in the passenger building where pilots could access additional weather information, and their lead pilot monitored PIREPs and aviation weather data throughout the day. The company’s control tower staff could also relay weather information to the lead pilot, although this was not a required part of their duties. Interviews with several Papillon pilots revealed that the primary means of assessing the weather conditions before a flight included reports from pilots returning from the Grand Canyon and wind indicators near Quartermaster, the windsock at Quartermaster, and a weather station about 2 nm away. Several pilots stated that they would talk to other pilots at the terminal after returning from Quartermaster to advise them about the current wind conditions. The more senior pilots stated that they would make radio transmissions regarding the wind if they found it particularly surprising or challenging. One pilot stated they were cautious of making more radio transmissions than necessary to avoid frequency congestion given that other companies also operated in the area. The operator did not require its pilots to communicate wind information over the radio, but did discourage unnecessary radio communication and encouraged pilots to report “safety of flight” matters such as pilot reports on the company radio frequency. Multiple Papillon pilots stated that the winds at Quartermaster were unpredictable and that the wind direction could drastically change during an approach into the landing site.

The accident pilot was unable to recount how he assessed the weather conditions on the day of the accident, but described how he normally obtained weather information before a flight. He stated that he would not recheck the weather between tour flights into the Grand Canyon because there was only a short turnover between flights and because he had recently been to the destination. He stated that pilots returning from Quartermaster would relay wind information when they arrived back at the terminal. Upon arriving at Quartermaster, the pilot would typically use a nearby windsock, Quartermaster’s windsock, and the directions of parked helicopters to discern the direction of the wind.


Quartermaster Elevation and Topography

Quartermaster was a landing site located on the south side of the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, about 53 nm east of BVU. The site was in an arid region on a plateau approximately 3,300 ft below the rim of the Grand Canyon at an elevation of 1,450 ft msl. Quartermaster’s 600-ft-long by 150-ft-wide landing area comprised packed dirt/rock and loose rock, with sparse, low vegetation. A March 2017 written agreement between the Hualapai Sovereign Nation and Papillon authorized Papillon to use the 10 available landing pads and defined the number of landings allotted per year.

Title 14 CFR Part 95.15 used the geographic coordinated system to define sections of the Western United States as “mountainous areas.” The coordinates referenced in the regulation included the Grand Canyon under this definition.

According to Papillon, the number of passengers the company flew into Quartermaster increased annually from 11,305 in 1999 (2 years after they started offering air tours to Quartermaster) to 77,742 total passengers the year before the accident. From the start of the operator’s service into Quartermaster to 2017, they had flown 1,028,623 passengers into Quartermaster, landing 179.661 times without any accidents.

The operator did not issue any written guidance to its pilots regarding specific approaches, approach profiles, or landing pads to use under certain conditions. According to the operator’s chief pilot, they were unable to predict which pad/approach would be favorable. He noted that their pilots were trained to conduct approaches into the wind, but were also professional pilots who, under 14 CFR 91.3, are directly responsible for and are the final authority as to the conduct of the flight.

Papillon pilots typically used two main approaches into Quartermaster; the "downriver landing" (used when landing on the east pads) and the "upriver landing" (used when landing on the west pads). 

According to the operator, these approaches were established by pilots and management when they began service into Quartermaster in 1997. Both approaches began from the north side of the Colorado River. The downriver landing required the pilot to cross the river west of Quartermaster and overfly a saddle-shaped landmark referred to as the “notch,” located south of the landing site. The pilot then performed a descending left turn to the east side of Quartermaster, touching down facing westnorthwest.

Quartermaster is part of the Hualapai Sovereign Nation and its use is controlled through an agreement with the operator. The agreement prohibits the fixed marking of any touchdown and lift off zones, or any fixed means for delineating preferred landing pads or maneuvering areas. Landing pads were selected by each pilot upon arrival based on availability and wind direction. The first pilots to arrive in a group typically landed on the pads closest to the center of the landing area.


The helicopter came to rest upright in rocky terrain about 300 ft below the landing site on a heading of 222° magnetic. Most of the wreckage was consumed by the postcrash fire except for the tail boom and fenestron, which had separated from but were collocated with the fuselage. (See figure 3.) The engine, still attached to the engine deck, was found in the main wreckage and sustained fire damage. All three main rotor blades remained attached to the main rotor hub and exhibited damage consistent with high rotational energy. The tail stinger, fenestron hub cover, a toe from a skid step, and small pieces of transparent windshield were found on a canyon slope east of the main wreckage.

Figure 3. Photograph of accident site

Airframe Examination

Continuity of the flight control system and main rotor drive system could not be determined due to postimpact fire damage.

The fenestron remained attached to the tail boom, which was found adjacent to the cockpit. Circular impact signatures were observed on the tail rotor drive shaft cover, consistent with the tail rotor drive shaft rotating at impact.

All three main rotor blades were found at the main wreckage site and remained attached to their root ends at their respective main rotor blade sleeves, which were attached to the Starflex. All three pitch horns remained attached to their respective sleeves and all three Starflex arms were fractured.

All three main rotor servo controls remained installed. Two of the three pitch change links were found in their normal positions attached to their respective pitch horns and rotating swashplate attachment points, but their link body was fractured. A portion of the third pitch change link body was found near its normally-installed location.

The fenestron control cable was fractured near the tail boom separation. Continuity of the control cable was traced from a fracture at its forward end to the fenestron blades. The fracture surface exhibited signatures consistent with overstress failure. A forward portion of the fenestron control cable was observed in the main wreckage; however, control continuity could not be established due to thermal damage.

Most of the fenestron blades remained attached to the hub, with the exception of one blade, which was fractured at its root; the blade was found on the ground immediately below the fenestron. The fenestron drive shaft did not exhibit anomalous damage and the external splines on the forward end of the drive shaft did not exhibit any anomalous wear.

Engine Examination

Examination of the reduction gearbox revealed signatures consistent with engine operation at the time of impact. The power turbine blades did not display evidence of blade shedding and the magnetic plugs showed no evidence of debris.


Toxicology tests performed by the FAA's Forensic Sciences Laboratory on specimens from the pilot were negative for all tested-for drugs except those used during medical treatment following the accident.



The helicopter was equipped with 8 single-occupant energy attenuating seats manufactured by Zodiac Seats, designed and certified to the standards contained in EASA ETSO C127a. (See figure 4.) All of the seats were destroyed by postcrash fire. Each of the eight seats was equipped with a 4-point rotary buckle restraint, all of which were recovered from the accident site.

Figure 4: Accident Helicopter Seat Configuration

The fire extinguisher was normally stowed in a bracket on the floor between the pilot seat and passenger seat No. 1. The fire extinguisher was charred and found in the wreckage. Seat no. 1 was unoccupied.


Passengers in seat Nos. 2, 6, and 7 did not have either the ability or opportunity to evacuate and died due to burns and smoke inhalation injuries; no blunt force traumatic injuries were noted by the medical examiner.

The pilot and passengers in seat Nos. 3, 4, and 5 sustained serious thermal injuries. Passengers in seat Nos. 3 and 4 succumbed to their burn injuries several days after the accident. In addition to their thermal injuries, the passenger in seat No. 5 sustained a spinal fracture. The pilot sustained an open left leg fracture.

Emergency Response

A photograph of the accident site taken at 1718:49 (after the accident) by a witness in an inbound helicopter showed white smoke and/or dust in the area of the accident site, while a second photograph taken about 7 seconds later showed flames and black smoke.

Numerous individuals, including pilots and passengers from other helicopters, were at Quartermaster at the time of the accident. Several Papillon pilots and members of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) retrieved first aid kits from other helicopters and responded to the accident site, arriving about 20 minutes after the accident. They observed the burning helicopter and the pilot and three seriously injured passengers who were outside the helicopter. (See figure 5.)

Figure 5. Quartermaster landing zone, accident site, and extraction location

The helicopter was equipped with an Artex C406-N HM emergency locator transmitter (ELT), which transmitted an alert notification and location information to the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC) at 1719:42.

The location of the accident site posed significant challenges and extended the response time for emergency personnel, who had to be flown in by helicopter. (See figure 6.) These first responders reached the accident site about 45 minutes after the accident.

Figure 6. The location and terrain elevation difference between first responders at Grand Canyon West Airport and Quartermaster

The seriously injured occupants were eventually extracted from the accident site via helicopter between 2315 and 0105 arriving at University Medical Center in Las Vegas between 0055 and 0128.

Some Papillon pilots noted that the use of satellite phones stored at Quartermaster was hindered due to dead batteries, poor coverage, and a lack of training in their operation. Papillon provided a laminated instruction card about use of the phones in their cases and stated that the phones were regularly tested. Additionally, Papillon stated there were spare batteries in the cases and the batteries were regularly replaced. Billing records confirmed the Quartermaster satellite phone was used in April, May, July and December 2017, and on the night of the accident.

At the time of the accident, the operator did not have a program in place to ensure that the satellite phones were regularly maintained, and staff were trained on their use. After the accident, the operator purchased new satellite phones with improved coverage, easier operability, and spare batteries. Papillon pilots were trained in their use and asked to demonstrate their proficiency in using the satellite phones. Additionally, Papillon purchased trauma kits and a collapsible stretcher that are now located in unlocked metal containers, readily available for emergency crews. Finally, Papillon provided its pilots with first
aid training and developed procedures to inspect the emergency medical equipment quarterly.


Loss of Tail Rotor Effectiveness (LTE)

According to FAA Advisory Circular 90-95, 

“LTE is a critical, low-speed aerodynamic flight characteristic which can result in an uncommanded rapid yaw rate, which does not subside of its own accord and, if not corrected, can result in a loss of aircraft control.”  

Information on this subject has been published by many organizations including the FAA and helicopter manufacturers.

The FAA Helicopter Flying Handbook (FAA-H-8083-21B) contains an in-depth discussion on LTE.  Chapter 7, Helicopter Performance, addresses helicopters with main rotors that rotate counter-clockwise, and states:

“The wind direction is also an important consideration. Headwinds are the most desirable as they contribute to the greatest increase in performance. Strong crosswinds and tailwind may require the use of more tail rotor thrust to maintain directional control. This increased tail rotor thrust absorbs power from the engine, which means there is less power available to the main rotor for the production of lift. Some helicopters even have a critical wind azimuth or maximum safe relative wind chart. Operating the helicopter beyond these limits could cause a loss of tail rotor effectiveness.”

Chapter 11, Helicopter Emergencies and Hazards, defines LTE as a condition that occurs when the flow of air through a tail rotor is altered in some way, by altering the angle or speed at which the air passes through the rotating blades of the tail rotor disk. It further states…

The main factors contributing to LTE are:

1. Airflow and downdraft generated by the main rotor blades interfering with the airflow entering the tail rotor assembly.
2. Main blade vortices developed at the main blade tips entering the tail rotor disk.
3. Turbulence and other natural phenomena affecting the airflow surrounding the tail rotor.
4. A high-power setting, hence large main rotor blade pitch angle, induces considerable main rotor downwash and hence more turbulence than when the helicopter is in a low power condition.
5. A slow forward airspeed, typically at speeds where translational lift and translational thrust are in the process of change and airflow around the tail rotor will vary in direction and speed.
6. The airflow relative to the helicopter;
a. Worst case – relative wind within ± 15° of the 10 o'clock position, generating vortices that can blow directly into the tail rotor. This is dictated by the characteristics of the helicopter's aerodynamics of tailboom position, tail rotor size and position relative to the main rotor and vertical stabilizer size and shape.
b. Weathercock stability – tailwinds from 120° to 240°, such as left crosswinds, causing high pilot workload.
c. Tail rotor vortex ring state (210° to 330°). Winds within this region will result in the development of the vortex ring state of the tail rotor.
7. Combinations of (a, b, c) of these factors in a particular situation can easily require more antitorque than the helicopter can generate and in a particular environment LTE can be the result.

…There are a number of contributing factors, but what is more important in preventing LTE is to note them, and then to associate them with situations that should be avoided. Whenever possible, pilots should learn to avoid the following combinations:

1. Low and slow out of ground effect.
2. Winds from ±15° of the 10 o'clock position and probably on around to 5 o'clock position
3. Tailwinds that may alter the onset of translational lift and translational thrust, and hence induce high power demands and demand more antitorque than the tail rotor can produce.
4. Low speed downwind turns.
5. Large changes of power at low airspeeds.
6. Low speed flight in the proximity of physical obstructions that may alter a smooth airflow to both the main rotor and tail rotor.

According to Eurocopter service letter no. 1673-67-04, published on February 4, 2005, several instances of a loss of yaw axis control occurred when “the [pilot’s] action applied to the [right] yaw pedal was not enough (amplitude/duration) to stop [left] rotation as quickly as the pilot wished.” In this situation, as the aircraft continues to rotate, the pilot may suspect a tail rotor failure and either climb or descend, which, respectively, can increase the leftward rotation, or cause the aircraft to tilt while rotating and
subsequently contact the ground. In the cases mentioned, “given their altitude and weight conditions the tail rotors were far from their maximum performance limits.”

The Eurocopter service letter addresses helicopters with main rotors that rotate clockwise, though loss of yaw control can occur with any helicopter with a tail rotor. A loss of yaw axis control can also occur when the helicopter is in fact operated beyond its performance limits (due to loading or environmental conditions or extreme maneuvers), and in this case even the prompt application full right pedal might not be sufficient to counter a left rotation.

Eurocopter service letter no. 1673-67-04 was superseded by Safety Information Notice 3297-S-00, issued by the manufacturer on July 3, 2019, that discussed the detection and recommended response to unanticipated yaw, emphasizing a prompt reaction with large amplitude of opposite pedal input.

Engineering Simulations of Accident Flight

As there was no recorded data available from the accident flight, the helicopter manufacturer performed engineering simulations with parametric data from an exemplar flight to compute the control authority required to match a route similar to the accident flight in various wind conditions. The results of these simulations are included in the public docket for this accident.

Landing Site Research

Title 14 CFR 136.1, National Air Tour Safety Standards, Applicability and Definitions, defined "suitable landing area" as:

an area that provides the operator reasonable capability to land without damage to equipment or injury to persons. Suitable landing areas must be site-specific, designated by the operator, and accepted by the FAA. These site-specific areas would provide an emergency landing area for a single-engine helicopter or a multi-engine helicopter that does not have the capability to reach a safe landing area after an engine power loss.

A certificate of authorization (COA) dated March 28, 1997, from the FAA to Papillon showed that Quartermaster was recognized as a landing site for Papillon’s air tour service with the provision that Papillon obtain permission from the land owner for any non-emergency landings. At the time of the accident, Papillon had an active agreement with the Hualapai Nation to land air tours at the site.

Demarcation Line

According to the United States Army Flight Manual “Fundamentals of Flight,”

The demarcation line is the point separating upflow air from downflow air. It forms at the mountain’s highest point and extends diagonally upward. The velocity of the wind and steepness of the uplift slope determines the position of the demarcation line. Generally, the higher the wind speed and steeper the terrain, the steeper the demarcation line…As wind increases above 20 kts, the demarcation line moves forward to the crest’s leading edge. It then matches the slope’s steepness. The severity of updrafts, downdrafts, and turbulence also increase. Under these conditions, the best landing spot is close to the forward edge (windward side) of the terrain feature. (See figure 7.) 

Figure 7: Excerpt showing demarcation line in strong wind from United States Army Helicopter Manual

A training document authored by The European Helicopter Safety Team entitled, “Techniques for Helicopter Operations in Hilly and Mountainous Terrain” stated:

…if the ground rises, the wind flows upward on a slope and it is referred to as the ‘windward’ side. If the ground slopes away from the wind direction, the wind flows downward and is referred to as the "leeward" side…When it flows over a cliff it tends to tumble over the edge in a turbulent manner.

The document further stated that, 

On the leeward slope there is generally turbulence and downdrafts that can make flight hazardous and should be avoided. The area where the updraft turns to a downdraft is referred to the as "demarcation line." The demarcation line between updrafting and downdrafting air will, typically, become steeper and move towards the windward edge of the feature as wind speed increases.

Mechanical Turbulence

Papillon pilots remarked that the terrain features in the canyon adjacent to Quartermaster created mechanical turbulence, a weather phenomenon defined as the disturbance and transformation from horizontal wind to a complicated pattern of eddies and irregular air movements due to obstructions such as bluffs, hills, mountains or buildings.

Pinnacle and Ridgeline Operations

According to the FAA Helicopter Flying Handbook (FAA-H-8083-21B), 

A pinnacle is an area from which the surface drops away steeply on all sides. A ridgeline is a long area from which the surface drops away steeply on one or two sides, such as a bluff or precipice. The absence of obstacles does not necessarily decrease the difficulty of pinnacle or ridgeline operations. Updrafts, downdrafts, and turbulence together with unsuitable terrain in which to make a forced landing may still present extreme hazards.

Papillon Terrain Flight Training and Guidance

When asked how they trained their pilots in mountainous flight operations, the company’s Director of Operations stated that “all of our pilots come to us as commercially rated pilots proficient in these maneuvers and certified to competency by the FAA in rotorcraft.” In addition, the operator required a minimum of 1,000 hours of pilot-in-command helicopter time before their employment. Each pilot was trained and evaluated in specific areas that aligned with concepts covered in the Helicopter Flying Handbook to prepare them for passenger flights in the Grand Canyon, including approaches, pinnacle/rooftop operations, confined area/steep approaches, crosswind operations, and loss of lift at altitude (settling with power).

The company used a “Flight Training Flow” as a guide for initial training in the EC130 B4 helicopter. According to this document, pinnacle and confined space operations are two of eight topics covered as part of a 1.3-hour instructional flight.

The “Pinnacle/Rooftop Operations” section of the company’s training program stated that “the trainee shall accomplish a proper high and low reconnaissance.”

Company guidance regarding approach and landing near pinnacles and ridgelines included excerpts from the FAA Helicopter Flying Handbook:

If there is a need to climb to a pinnacle or ridgeline, do it on the upwind side, when practicable, to take advantage of any updrafts. The approach flightpath should be parallel to the ridgeline and into the wind as much as possible.

Load, altitude, wind conditions, and terrain features determine the angle to use in the final part of the approach. As a general rule, the greater the winds are, the steeper the approach needs to be to avoid turbulent air and downdrafts…if a crosswind exists, remain clear of downdrafts on the leeward or downwind side of the ridgeline…When making an approach to a pinnacle, avoid leeward turbulence and keep the helicopter within reach of a forced landing area as long as possible.

Confined Area/Steep Approaches

According to the “Confined Area Operations” section of the company’s training program, a high angle of descent should be used to complete a steep approach into the wind. Among the expectations listed under “Acceptable Performance Guidelines,” the company expected the trainee to consider wind conditions, landing surface, obstacles, and to remain aware of the possibility of wind shear and/or wake turbulence. 

Normal Approach to a Hover

The company’s training program described a normal approach to a hover as its “accepted way to transition from cruising flight to a hover.” The maneuver required a descent from 300 to 500 ft agl on a constant angle descent and constant airspeed until the helicopter is about 75 ft agl. The section continued by describing the maneuver in detail and incorporated the pilot’s control movements.
Among the expectations listed under “Acceptable Performance Guidelines,” the company expected the trainee to consider wind conditions, landing surface, obstacles, and to remain aware of the possibility of wind shear and/or wake turbulence.

Crosswind Operations

The company training on crosswind operations was meant to establish proficiency in approaches and landings when operations into the wind were not feasible. Most of the section discussed crosswind takeoffs, as the section description makes only two references to a crosswind approach. The first reference stated that a “crosswind departure and approach in helicopter are similar to the operation in fixed wing.”  The second reference was captured in the “Acceptable Performance Guidelines” section, which stated “in addition to guidelines established for no wind approaches, all crosswind work will be evaluated on the basis of maintaining proper ground track.”

The company operations manual imposed maximum wind limitations of 30-35 kts steady wind and a gust spread of 20 kts or greater; these limitations applied to both on- and off- airport operations.

Postaccident Safety Actions

Following the accident, Papillon took the following safety actions.

Completed a crash resistant fuel system retrofit of its entire fleet of Airbus EC130 B4 and AS350B3e helicopters in August 2019
Purchased survival equipment and trauma kits for each of its remote landing sites, including Quartermaster
Installed an additional windsock near the accident site along with a weather station that transmits real-time wind information to Papillon’s base of operations
New satellite phones were placed at Quartermaster and other landing sites that include spare batteries. Pilots were trained on their usage.
Upgraded their Spidetracks program, a GPS tracking platform, from a sampling rate of 15 minute intervals to 15 second intervals.
Trained 12 employees as emergency response instructors to develop a module for employee training.
Expanded the existing LTE training module in pilot training syllabus.

Following the accident, Airbus took the following safety action.

The company’s existing safety information notice on unanticipated left yaw (LTE) was revised on July 3, 2019.

Safety information notice 3539-I-00 was released on September 4, 2020), which addresses the controllability differences between a conventional tail rotor and a Fenestron, which the accident helicopter was equipped with.

History of Flight

Approach Other weather encounter
Approach Loss of control in flight (Defining event)
Uncontrolled descent Collision with terr/obj (non-CFIT)
Post-impact Fire/smoke (post-impact)

Pilot Information

Certificate: Commercial; Flight instructor
Age: 41, Male
Airplane Rating(s): None 
Seat Occupied: Front
Other Aircraft Rating(s): Helicopter 
Restraint Used: 4-point
Instrument Rating(s): Helicopter
Second Pilot Present: No
Instructor Rating(s): Helicopter; Instrument helicopter
Toxicology Performed: Yes
Medical Certification: Class 2 Without waivers/limitations
Last FAA Medical Exam: November 13, 2017
Occupational Pilot: Yes 
Last Flight Review or Equivalent: December 21, 2017
Flight Time: 2423.1 hours (Total, all aircraft), 1078.6 hours (Total, this make and model), 2396.6 hours (Pilot In Command, all aircraft), 13.6 hours (Last 90 days, all aircraft), 2 hours (Last 30 days, all aircraft)

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Eurocopter 
Registration: N155GC
Model/Series: EC130 B4 
Aircraft Category: Helicopter
Year of Manufacture: 2010 
Amateur Built: No
Airworthiness Certificate: Normal
Serial Number: 7091
Landing Gear Type: Ski
d Seats: 8
Date/Type of Last Inspection: January 25, 2018 100 hour 
Certified Max Gross Wt.: 5350 lbs
Time Since Last Inspection: 168 Hrs
Engines: 1 Turbo shaft
Airframe Total Time: 9629.1 Hrs as of last inspection
Engine Manufacturer: Turbomeca (Safran)
ELT: C126 installed, activated, did not aid in locating accident
Engine Model/Series: Arriel 2B1
Registered Owner: 
Rated Power: 847 Horsepower
Operating Certificate(s) Held: Rotorcraft external load (133), On-demand air taxi (135), Commercial air tour (136), Agricultural aircraft (137)

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual (VMC)
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: PRIV,4815 ft msl 
Distance from Accident Site: 3 Nautical Miles
Observation Time: 17:45 Local
Direction from Accident Site: 337°
Lowest Cloud Condition: Scattered / 12000 ft AGL 
Lowest Ceiling:
Visibility (RVR):
Wind Speed/Gusts: 17 knots / 22 knots 
Turbulence Type
Forecast/Actual: /
Wind Direction: 340° 
Turbulence Severity Forecast/Actual:  /
Altimeter Setting: 29.86 inches Hg
Temperature/Dew Point: 12°C / -6°C
Precipitation and Obscuration: No Obscuration; No Precipitation
Departure Point: BOULDER CITY, NV (BVU)
Type of Flight Plan Filed: Company VFR
Destination: Peach Springs, AZ (QMB) 
Type of Clearance: None
Departure Time: 16:42 Local 
Type of Airspace: Class G

Airport Information

Airport: PRIV QMB 
Runway Surface Type: Dirt
Airport Elevation: 1451 ft msl 
Runway Surface Condition: Dry
Runway Used: 
IFR Approach: None
Runway Length/Width:
VFR Approach/Landing: Full stop

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Serious
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Passenger Injuries: 5 Fatal, 1 Serious 
Aircraft Fire: On-ground
Ground Injuries:
Aircraft Explosion: Unknown
Total Injuries: 5 Fatal, 2 Serious
Latitude, Longitude: 35.967224,-113.76889(est)

Location: Peach Springs, AZ

Accident Number: WPR18FA087
Date & Time: 02/10/2018, 1715 MST
Registration: N155GC
Aircraft: EUROCOPTER EC130
Injuries: 3 Fatal, 4 Serious
Flight Conducted Under:  Part 135: Air Taxi & Commuter - Non-scheduled - Sightseeing 

On February 10, 2018, about 1715 mountain standard time, an Airbus Helicopters EC130 B4 helicopter, N155GC, was destroyed when it impacted a canyon wash while on an approach to land at Quartermaster landing zone near Peach Springs, Arizona. The commercial pilot and three passengers sustained serious injuries and three passengers were fatally injured. The air-tour flight was operated by Papillon Airways, Inc. under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 136. The helicopter departed Boulder City Municipal Airport, Boulder City, Nevada at 1635 and had intended to land at Quartermaster landing zone, a group of landing pads within Quartermaster canyon. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and a company flight plan had been filed.

A review of the recorded radar data showed that the helicopter departed Boulder City and continued on the Green 4 standard helicopter route prescribed in the Grand Canyon West Special Flight Rules Area 50-2. Witnesses reported that as the helicopter neared the vicinity of Quartermaster, they observed it on a flight path consistent with the pilot aligning to make a downriver-wind landing to a pad on the west. The helicopter began to slow after it passed over the river and maintained a southern course as it entered a canyon wash adjacent to the landing pads. While maintaining the same altitude, the helicopter entered a nose-high attitude and then began a left turn toward the Quartermaster landing zone. During the turn, the helicopter transitioned into a nose-low attitude and as it began to face the landing pads it began to slightly drift aft. The helicopter then maneuvered into a nose-level configuration and continued in the left turn. Subsequently, the helicopter made at least two 360° left turn revolutions as it descended into the wash below where it impacted terrain and a postcrash fire ensued.

The helicopter came to rest upright in rocky terrain about 300 feet below the landing zone on a heading of 222° magnetic. The accident site was compact except for small main rotor blade pieces and small paint chips distributed around the main wreckage site. Most of the wreckage was consumed by the postcrash fire except for the tailboom and fenestron, which had separated from, but were collocated with the main fuselage. The engine, still attached to the engine deck, was found in the main wreckage and had also sustained fire damage. All three main rotor blades remained attached to the main rotor hub and exhibited damage consistent with high rotational energy. The tail stinger, fenestron hub cover, a toe from a skid step, and small pieces of transparent acrylic glass were found on a canyon slope east of the main wreckage.

The 8-seat capacity, fixed landing gear helicopter, serial number 7091, was manufactured in 2010. The accident helicopter was powered by one Safran Helicopter Engines (formerly Turbomeca) Arriel 2B1 turboshaft engine. 

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Manufacturer: EUROCOPTER
Registration: N155GC
Model/Series: EC130 B4
Aircraft Category: Helicopter
Amateur Built: No
Operator: Papillon Airways, Inc.
Operating Certificate(s) Held: Commercial Air Tour (136); Agricultural Aircraft (137); Rotorcraft External Load (133); On-demand Air Taxi (135)

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual Conditions
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: PRIV
Observation Time: 1710 MST
Distance from Accident Site: 2 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 24°C / -3°C
Lowest Cloud Condition:
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 12 knots/ 19 knots, 360°
Lowest Ceiling:
Altimeter Setting: 29.62 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed: Company VFR
Departure Point: BOULDER CITY, NV (BVU)
Destination: Peach Springs, AZ

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Serious
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Passenger Injuries: 3 Fatal, 3 Serious
Aircraft Fire: On-Ground
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: Unknown
Total Injuries: 3 Fatal, 4 Serious
Latitude, Longitude:  35.967222, -113.768889 (est)

Pilot Scott Booth

Pilot Scott Booth

LONG BEACH, California — Scott Booth woke up about 65 feet from the burning helicopter to the sounds of screams and a woman praying over him.

His clothes were burned off, except for the fabric directly underneath him. His face and hair were singed.

Booth, 43, survived the impact and subsequent fire, but the crash that would eventually claim the lives of five people also took his legs. Now he hopes sharing his story of recovery can spark change in the helicopter industry and prevent similar fallout in other crashes.

“I want justice for myself, for all the passengers involved, and I want to make sure that this never happens again,” Booth said from his parents’ Long Beach home.

February 10th, 2018, started normally for Booth. Though he wasn’t initially scheduled to fly that day for Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters, he picked up the shift.

On the pilot’s third flight from Papillon’s Boulder City base, the British tourists seemed happy. He gave them the safety briefing, and they were joking around.

“It was just a flight like every other flight, and then it wasn’t,” he said.

He intended to land the EC130 B4 sightseeing helicopter in Quartermaster Canyon on tribal land in Arizona. But on approach, the helicopter spun to the left at least twice as it fell out of the sky and into the wash below.

Booth has no recollection of the impact or how he was freed from the helicopter.

‘They were spread everywhere’

Flight nurse Cambria Hilgers, who was working with her partner in Kingman, Arizona, was dispatched to the canyon.

Their rescue helicopter had to circle a couple of times in the high winds before it could land near the Quartermaster picnic area. They hiked down the rugged terrain to the wreckage, where she saw a still-burning fuselage and a detached tail.

“People were still very much alive, and they were writhing in pain and they were yelling,” she said. Their cries echoed through the canyon.

Her focus was on the patients.

“I had four different people, and they were spread everywhere,” she said.

When Hilgers got to Booth, she covered him up. He was raspy, his throat was swelling and he cycled through emotions. Both legs were broken from the knee down.

“The right leg was just charred all the way through,” she said.

Hilgers continued talking with Booth to keep him alive. When he started to fade, she yelled at him, forcing him to come around.

Eight hours would pass before rescue crews could lift the victims from the canyon. In that time, Hilgers formed a bond with Booth that continues today.

Three of the passengers died at the scene: Becky Dobson, 27; Jason Hill, 32; and Stuart Hill, 30. Booth and three other passengers were taken to Las Vegas. Newlyweds Ellie Milward Udall, 29, and Jonathan Udall, 31, died at University Medical Center in the days after the crash. Jennifer Barham survived.

All five deaths were due to burn-related injuries.

Months in hospitals

Booth’s mother, Kathy Booth, was in her kitchen in Long Beach when she heard the phone ring close to midnight. Her son’s friend asked where Scott was. She was interrupted by the police calling.

An operator told her an official from the National Transportation Safety Board called but couldn’t get through. She was asked to call the agency.

“So then I knew something was pretty bad,” she said.

By the time she’d packed, she had heard her son was out and talking. She thought it was only broken bones; she never considered a fire or losing a limb.

When she arrived at the hospital, she saw her son on a ventilator. It was hot in the room, and he was bloating.

“He was very scary to look at,” she said.

Doctors quickly amputated Booth’s left leg, which was fractured and burned in the crash. They would remove his right leg later because it was severely burned, he recalled.

Kathy Booth visited her son at the University Medical Center burn unit in weeklong intervals, trading off time between watching over him and caring for her husband, who suffers from dementia, back home. She advocated for her son when she said the quality of care he received didn’t meet standards.

Scott Booth struggled with not being able to talk to the people who visited him in the hospital.

“Everyone was gowned up,” he said. “They had gloves and long sleeves and gowns and masks, so I didn’t even know who was visiting me. I could just see eyes.”

After about four months, he was taken to Torrance Memorial Medical Center in California, where he would spend an additional three months in a burn unit. He recalled crying fits because he didn’t want to spend his life in a wheelchair.

Going home

After another month in a Long Beach hospital, Booth went back to the home where he grew up.

Now his days are filled with medication.

Kathy Booth upended her lifestyle to care for her son. She lost sleep because she wanted to be available if he needed her.
“This is your child, so you want to blow on it and kiss it and make it go away, but it doesn’t work like that,” she said.

Scott Booth has undergone dozens of surgeries since he was hospitalized.

The scars from his skin grafts will be visible forever. Though he no longer requires regular treatment for his burns, he is seeking plastic surgery to deal with loose skin from grafting.

Most recently, he had titanium rods put into his legs, which will allow him to click his legs into his prosthetics. The prosthetic legs he was given are too painful to regularly wear over his burns.

Despite the physical limitations, Booth has found ways to carry on. He can drive a vehicle with hand controls, and he’s taking boxing lessons.

He later reconnected with one of the nurses who cared for him in Las Vegas. Now, Elisabeth Wolf is his fiancee. “I think he’s kind of super human,” she said.

Invisible scars

Booth said he was devastated when he found out the harm the crash had caused. He still is, but one thought keeps him going.

“I know I’m not responsible,” he said. “That’s the only thing that keeps me sane. I didn’t do it. I didn’t cause that accident.”

The fire took nearly half his body and scarred much of the rest, but the hardest part of recovery has been healing the psychological wounds.

As someone who has traveled the world, he wrestles with the fact that he can’t move the way he once did.

“I mean, how do you take someone that was in Mount Everest three months before the accident and put him in a bed?” he asked, choking back tears. His brain still wants to travel, but his body is broken, he said.

He’s experienced suicidal thoughts and wondered if he would ever walk again. The little things that people take for granted got to him, like standing up to go to the bathroom or putting up Christmas lights.

“I just was hoping to get through the day,” he said.

Booth will be able to walk again with prosthetics, but he knows his life is forever changed.

“You put it all into perspective, though, in the long run, there’s time, right?” he said. “I’m still going to have time.”

Lawsuits and loopholes

A lawsuit from Jonathan Udall’s family that names Papillon, Booth and Airbus Helicopters among the defendants claims Udall’s death could have been prevented. The lawsuit blames a faulty tail rotor, failed weather checks and pilot inexperience for causing the helicopter to spin out of control and crash into the canyon. It says if the helicopter had been outfitted with a crash-resistant fuel system, Udall would have survived.

Booth also has filed a claim against Airbus, blaming the crash and his extensive injuries on a defective tail rotor and the lack of a crash-resistant fuel system.

Airbus would not comment on potential causes of the crash and referred all questions to the NTSB. An NTSB spokesman did not respond to a voicemail.

There’s no final report that spells out the cause of the crash or explicitly says whether the helicopter was equipped with a crash-resistant fuel system. But two things are clear: Such systems were not standard equipment on the model of helicopter that crashed, and the manufacturer did not provide an option for an upgrade at the time.

After the wreck, Papillon reached an agreement with a third-party company to retrofit its fleet with safer tanks. That project has been completed.

Airbus says it complies with all applicable certification regulations.

But a loophole in a 1994 federal aviation regulation allowed helicopter makers to sidestep a requirement to put crash-resistant fuel tanks in new aircraft. The regulation requires all newly certified helicopters to be equipped with the systems, but it grandfathers in newly built aircraft with certificates approved before the regulation was implemented. The helicopter that crashed was a derivative of a pre-regulation model.

In 2015, a federal transportation safety official wrote that only 15 percent of new helicopters had the rupture-resistant systems.

An Airbus spokeswoman said the company didn’t make the rupture-resistant tanks standard largely because it was not required and it wasn’t a big topic in the industry when the EC130 B4 was certified about 20 years ago.

The systems also came with added weight and added cost. The company’s crash-resistant fuel systems are about 40 pounds heavier than the original systems, the spokeswoman said.

An Airbus crash-resistant tank retrofit kit will be certified soon for the type of helicopter that crashed, the company said. And on current Airbus production models, crash-resistant fuel systems are standard on all aircraft in the same class as the Papillon tour helicopter that crashed.

A law signed in October 2018 requires newly manufactured helicopters to have the safer fuel systems, but the new standards only apply to helicopters built 18 months after the law was enacted, aviation lawyer Mike Slack said.

“Everything before that date is not subject to the new law,” he said. The law does not contain any retrofitting requirements, he said.

Booth said he thinks there should be a requirement to add safer tanks to commercial aircraft. Compared to the total cost of a helicopter, it doesn’t take much to make the aircraft safer, he said.

“It’s a fraction of a percent to make sure the fuel systems are crash-resistant,” Booth said. “Changing the material, changing what it’s encapsulated in. That’s what I want. That’s important, right?”

Story and video ➤

Three British tourists killed in a fiery helicopter crash at the Grand Canyon earlier this year died of smoke inhalation and burns that covered their entire bodies, according to autopsies released Wednesday.

The reports from the Mohave County Medical Examiner's Office for brothers Stuart Hill, 30, and Jason Hill, 31, and Rebecca Dobson, 27, also confirm all five crash victims died from burn-related injuries.

Newlyweds Jonathan Udall, 31, and, Ellie Milward Udall, 29, died days after the Feb. 10 accident at a Las Vegas hospital. A Nevada medical examiner said both died from complications from burn injuries.

 According to the Mohave County medical examiner, the Hill brothers and Dobson were burned beyond recognition. There also was evidence they suffered carbon monoxide poisoning.

Udall's family is suing helicopter owner Papillon Airways and manufacturer Airbus Helicopters. The wrongful-death lawsuit, filed in March in Las Vegas by Udall's parents, says he would have survived if the aircraft had a crash-resistant fuel system.

The Udalls' attorney did not immediately respond Wednesday to a message seeking comment.

The crash-resistant systems have fuel tanks that expand, rather than rupture, on impact and self-sealing components to keep fuel from spreading. They are meant to prevent aircraft from catching fire and lessen the chance that people on board get burned.

Airbus officials said the company now builds helicopters with the new fuel systems and supports operators who chose to retrofit their Airbus aircraft with them.

Papillon Airways CEO Brenda Halvorson has said it is "misguided" for attorneys to make allegations about the accident before the National Transportation Safety Board finishes its investigation.

The crash also critically injured a sixth passenger, 39-year-old Jennifer Barham, and the pilot, 42-year-old Scott Both.

The six friends were in Las Vegas to celebrate Stuart Hill's birthday and were on a sightseeing tour over tribal land in the Grand Canyon.

Stephen R Stein, Investigator In Charge (IIC)
National Transportation Safety Board 

The chief executive officer of Papillon Airways, a Boulder City-headquartered helicopter tour company whose aircraft was involved in a deadly crash last month, said allegations made in a wrongful death lawsuit filed Friday are premature.

Longtime helicopter crash attorney Gary Robb filed the lawsuit in District Court on behalf of the parents of 31-year-old Jonathan Udall, of Southampton, England. Udall survived the Feb. 10 crash in the Grand Canyon on tribal land in Arizona, but he later died from his injuries.

The lawsuit, the first filed since the chopper went down, accuses Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters of neglecting to outfit its copters with crash-resistant fuel systems. Had Papillon done so, the lawsuit alleges, Udall would have survived his injuries. He was onboard the 2010 Eurocopter EC130 B4 with five other British tourists when it crashed.

The lawsuit, which asks for unspecified damages, also blames a faulty tail rotor, failed weather checks and pilot inexperience for causing the plane to spin out of control.

But in a statement emailed to the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Sunday, Papillon Airways CEO Brenda Halvorson said it is too soon for such allegations.

“It is extremely premature and misguided for any attorney to make allegations regarding the accident prior to the NTSB investigation being complete,” she said in the statement. “We are working intimately with the NTSB and providing all technical and factual information as requested.”

The crash left Becky Dobson, 27; Jason Hill, 32; and Stuart Hill, 30, dead at the scene. Udall, his 29-year-old wife, Ellie Milward, and the pilot were hospitalized at University Medical Center in critical condition after an hourslong rescue effort. Milward also died from her injuries in the weeks since the crash.

A National Transportation Safety Board preliminary report states that the helicopter landed about 300 feet from the planned landing site near Quartermaster Canyon. The helicopter spun 360 degrees at least twice, according to the report.

“That, to me, is the hallmark of a malfunctioning tail rotor,” Robb told the Review-Journal last month. He has litigated numerous cases involving tail rotor issues.

Papillon announced earlier this week that it will retrofit its fleet with crash-resistant tanks.

Manufacturer Airbus Helicopters said Saturday that it now builds helicopters with the new fuel systems and supports operators who choose to retrofit their Airbus aircraft with them, the Associated Press reported.

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The manufacturer and operator of a sightseeing helicopter that crashed in the Grand Canyon last month are responding to a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of a British tourist who was on board.

The suit, filed Friday in Las Vegas by the parents of Jonathan Udall of Southampton, says he could have survived if the helicopter had a crash-resistant fuel system.

Manufacturer Airbus Helicopters said Saturday it now builds helicopters with the new fuel systems and supports operators who chose to retrofit their Airbus aircraft with them.

Papillon Airways CEO Brenda Halvorson says it is "misguided" for attorneys to make allegations about the accident before the National Transportation Safety Board finishes its investigation.

The Feb. 10 crash killed five people and critically injured two, including the pilot.

The parents of a newlywed who was among five Britons to die in a helicopter crash in the Grand Canyon are suing the tour operator for wrongful death.

Jonathan Udall, who died in hospital days before his wife, Ellie Milward, could have survived if Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters and the manufacturer Airbus Helicopters had not negligently failed to install a crash-resistant fuel tank, according to the lawsuit filed in Nevada on Friday.

The honeymooning couple died in hospital as a result of burns sustained in the 10 February crash that killed their friends Becky Dobson, her boyfriend Stuart Hill and his brother Jason.

Lawyers for Philip and Marlene Udall, of Southampton, claim that their 31-year-old son would not have sustained “catastrophic” burns if the Airbus EC130 B4 had been fitted with the fuel system.

After the lawsuit was filed, lawyer Gary Robb said: “Mr and Mrs Udall deeply grieve for the loss of their son but their primary motivation now is to prevent anyone else from having to suffer the deadly burn injuries as their son did.

“If this helicopter had been properly equipped with a crash-resistant fuel system, it would have allowed this young man to walk away injury-free.”

They are also suing the pilot, Scott Booth, who was taken to hospital; in critical condition, accusing him of negligence for crashing. Also named in the lawsuit are the Papillon directors Brenda Halvorson and Elling Halvorson, president Geoff Edlund and chief operating officer John Becker. The family allege that they failed to ensure the helicopter was in a “safe and defect-free” condition.

They also accuse mechanic Matthew Hecker and its inspector Daniel Friedman of negligence over the state of the helicopter, in particular its tail rotor.

A coroner ruled that Jonathan Udall and Milward, 29, from Worthing, West Sussex, died of complications of thermal injury.

Dobson, 27, Stuart Hill, 30, and Jason Hill, 32, all from Worthing, died at the scene of multiple injuries. Their friend, Jennifer Barham, 39, was airlifted to Las Vegas’s University Medical Centre.

The Udalls are asking for in excess of $195,000 (£141,000) in damages, as well as punitive damages and a jury trial.

The lawsuit comes after it was announced that Papillon would fit 40 of the crash-resistant tanks to its fleet following the crash, which Robb called “too little, too late”.

Robb said he previously won a $38m (£28m) lawsuit for Chana Daskal, who suffered burns over 85% of her body, having been the sole survivor of a Papillon crash in the Grand Canyon 17 years ago.

The crash-resistant fuel system is not currently mandatory in the US for helicopters certified before 1994.

The company whose helicopter was involved in a deadly crash at the Grand Canyon is adding new fuel systems to its fleet that could help prevent or limit burn injuries. Papillon Airways announced an agreement this week with StandardAero for 40 fuel tanks that expand, rather than rupture, on impact and that have self-sealing components. The systems generally give passengers and pilots more time to escape if they survive a hard landing or crash by keeping fuel from spreading and igniting, aviation experts say. The National Transportation Safety Board repeatedly has urged the Federal Aviation Administration to require that all helicopters have the systems. The FAA is considering it. Right now, they're required only for helicopters newly certified after 1994, a requirement that aviation experts have called a major loophole. Papillon declined comment Tuesday on what led to its decision. Lon Halvorson, the company's owner, said in a news release that it's committed to lead the industry by retrofitting its air tour fleet with the crash-resistant systems developed by StandardAero and Robertson Fuel Systems. The first of the installations for the Airbus EC130 B4 and the AS350 B3 is scheduled for April. The crash-resistant systems aren't standard on either of the aircraft, but the FAA certified retrofits last year, Airbus spokesman Bob Cox said. All single-engine helicopters Airbus has sold in the U.S. since 2016 include the systems, he said. Kyle Hultquist, a spokesman for StandardAero, said the company anticipates more interest in the systems now that the retrofits have been certified. Cox put the cost estimate at tens of thousands per helicopter and the time frame at two weeks per retrofit, depending on how Papillon has reconfigured the helicopters and the structure surrounding the fuel tanks. Aviation attorney Gary C. Robb said the timing of Papillon's decision was no coincidence, coming a little more than two weeks after one of its helicopters crashed at the base of the Grand Canyon on the Hualapai reservation. Witnesses saw smoke billowing from the canyon and the aircraft in flames. "It's well and good that they are making these retrofits, but it doesn't help the people who were horribly injured and those who were killed," Robb said. Three of the British tourists on board were pronounced dead at the scene: veterinary receptionist Becky Dobson, 27; her boyfriend and car salesman Stuart Hill, 30; and Hill's brother, 32-year-old lawyer Jason Hill.  Two others in their group — 31-year-old Jonathan Udall and 29-year-old Ellie Milward Udall — were in critical condition and later died at a Las Vegas hospital. The Clark County coroner's office said Tuesday that the newlyweds died of complications from burn injuries. Ellie Udall's family said in a statement that she died without regaining consciousness in the burn unit. The family asked for privacy and said it was "exceedingly grateful" for the rescue services in the Grand Canyon, volunteers and hospital staff. A sixth passenger, 39-year-old Jennifer Barham, and the 42-year-old pilot, Scott Booth, remained in critical condition Tuesday.  The Britons were in Las Vegas to celebrate Stuart Hill's birthday. An NTSB report released last week said the helicopter made at least two 360-degree turns before crashing but doesn't specify the cause. A full report won't be complete for more than a year.

The sightseeing helicopter that crashed at the Grand Canyon, killing three British tourists, was not required to have a system that would keep it from bursting into flames on impact, U.S. authorities said.

Investigators were combing through the wreckage Tuesday in a remote, rugged portion of the natural wonder, west of the national park, and will determine if the Airbus EC130 B4 helicopter owned by Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters had been updated with a crash-resistant fuel system.

A full report that would outline the cause of the crash isn't expected for more than a year.

It's unclear if any of the three victims in Saturday's crash would have survived if the helicopter had not caught on fire, giving them more time to escape. A witness said he heard explosions after the crash and saw one woman who appeared burned over most of her body. She was among four survivors.

The Federal Aviation Administration requires all helicopters certified after October 1994 to have equipment that could minimize the chance of a fire in a crash-landing. That includes fuel tanks made of composite material that can expand rather than rupture and components that seal automatically if they break away from the fuel tank to keep gas from spreading.

But those requirements don't apply to newer versions of helicopters that were designed before that date, including the Airbus EC130 B4 that crashed at the Grand Canyon, FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said.

The National Transportation Safety Board has urged the FAA repeatedly to apply its standards for crash-resistant fuel systems to all helicopters, regardless of when they were certified. It cited data showing only three helicopters in 135 accidents it investigated between 1994 and 2013 where the aircraft caught fire had the systems.

More than 221 people died in those accidents, though not all from fire-related injuries, the agency said.

The FAA designated a working group to take up the recommendation.

The U.S. Army has had the more flexible fuel systems in its aircraft for decades but they haven't been in widespread use in the civilian world, said Jerry Kidrick, assistant professor of aeronautical science at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott. Cost, weight and time often factor into decisions on whether to add them, he said.

"Personally, my view is there is no excuse not to have them when they've proven themselves," said Kidrick, a former Army pilot. "This crash is another example."

The National Transportation Safety Board noted in a 2016 safety recommendation report that Airbus was developing a kit for updating the EC130 B4 helicopters and planned to make it available to owners and operators that year. Airbus didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment Tuesday.

The crash killed veterinary receptionist Becky Dobson, 27; her boyfriend Stuart Hill, a 30-year-old car salesman; and his brother, Jason Hill, a 32-year-old lawyer. They were with a group of friends to celebrate Stuart Hill's birthday in Las Vegas and took the Grand Canyon sightseeing tour on tribal land.

Unlike the more tightly regulated air tours within Grand Canyon National Park, helicopters quickly deposit tourists inside the canyon for lunches or hikes or pontoon boat rides. Just as quickly, they whisk them away.

Hualapai tribal leaders said they have halted helicopter tours at the canyon for now and are working with federal investigators. Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters said it is cooperating with the investigation and abides by flight safety regulations that exceed those required by the FAA.

The helicopter pilot, 42-year-old Scott Booth, severely injured a limb. The other survivors being treated for critical injuries at a Las Vegas trauma center are Ellie Milward, 29; Jonathan Udall, 32; and Jennifer Barham, 39.

An Arizona medical examiner had not yet completed autopsies on the victims Tuesday.

An expert says investigators are likely to pay special attention to the type of helicopter that crashed in the Grand Canyon, killing three British tourists. Aviation attorney Gary C. Robb says the EC-130 helicopter generally lacks a system to keep it from exploding on impact, denying passengers a few extra minutes to try to escape. It comes after the crash on tribal land, which has fewer regulations than helicopter tours in Grand Canyon National Park. 

Federal safety officials were on the scene of a downed helicopter in the Grand Canyon, and plan to move the aircraft itself to Phoenix soon for further investigation of what caused a fiery, fatal crash over the wee

"This a very technical-heavy investigation," said Stephen Stein, air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, at a media conference Monday afternoon in Boulder City, Nev.

"We have a lot of analysis to do — analysis of meteorological observations, engine and airframe examinations," he said.

Five FAA representatives and three NTSB investigators were on the scene, Stein said, with assistance from the helicopter manufacturer and the flight operator, Papillon Airways.

Access to the area is difficult, as investigators must take a helicopter into the canyon and then hike to the crash itself. Investigators will spend a couple more days at the site before moving the remnants of the aircraft to Phoenix, where they will do further examination. 

A preliminary report will be available in 5-10 days, with analysis of the likely probable cause, Stein said. But a full investigation is expected to take 18 months.

Victims and survivors

The Eurocopter EC130 tour helicopter went down near Quartermaster Canyon in the western portion of the Grand Canyon after 5 p.m. Saturday. Officials have since identified the crash victims: Becky Dobson, 27; Jason Hill, 32; and Stuart Hill, 30, died. Pilot Scott Booth, 42, and passengers Ellie Milward, 29; Jonathan Udall, 32; and Jennifer Barham, 39, survived, and were taken to a Las Vegas hospital.

Stein said investigators were in contact with the survivors and working to get info from them, but were waiting for those survivors to recover enough to provide statements. 

Federal officials encourage any witnesses to contact investigators at

Asked about whether the helicopter had a fire-resistant fuel system installed, Stein said the question was an important one, but declined to answer whether he knew. He said investigators would have to examine whether that model of helicopter has a history of fires.

"That's something we're going to have to look at in our investigation," he said. "We're going through our archives right now." 

"There is evidence of a post-crash fire," he said. Photos from the scene show the area in flames. 

That area of the Canyon remains under a temporary flight restriction, he said, though flights will probably resume within the next day or two.

The pilot behind the controls of the helicopter that crashed in the Grand Canyon over the weekend, killing three people, has had one surgery and is slated for several more, according to a fellow pilot who has started a GoFundMe page to help defray medical expenses.

Pilot Scott Booth was among four survivors of the crash Saturday in a remote portion of the Grand Canyon. No cause has been given for the wreck though a law-enforcement official noted that a storm had passed through the area at the time of the crash.

Booth worked at Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters, a tour company that flies tourists out of Las Vegas to get below-the-rim views of the Arizona natural wonder.

A fellow Papillon pilot, T.J. Wesoloski, started the GoFundMe page Monday with a posted goal of $50,000. The page said Booth “sustained life-threatening injuries” in the crash.

“We don’t know his current condition,” the page read, “but we expect a long road to recovery.”

Wesoloski did not immediately return a request for comment Monday.

Though Wesoloski was listed as the organizer, the page describes it as coming from “the line pilots at Papillon.”

Killed in the crash were Becky Dobson, 27; Jason Hill, 32; and Stuart Hill, 30. The survivors were identified as Ellie Milward, 29; Jonathan Udall, 32; Jennifer Barham, 39, and Booth.

The page described Booth, who lived in Long Beach, Calif., as “one of the nicest, kindest human beings on the face of the planet.  He would always offer to help if someone was in need, and would often crack a joke while doing it.”

The page showed a picture of Booth smiling with a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball cap backward on his head.

The page made a specific plea to members of the tour helicopters community.

“You have heard his voice on the radio, flown next to him, and probably shared a few jokes at (Grand Canyon West Airport) together,” the page read. “All of us are family, let's make sure we show it."

The page had raised more than $7,100 by late Monday afternoon.

The National Transportation Safety Board confirmed Monday it will take a very close look at the fuel system of a helicopter that crashed in the Grand Canyon.

“There is evidence of a post-crash fire,” said NTSB investigator Stephen Stein.

Three people died in the crash. Four others survived with serious injuries that include burns.

The helicopter, operated by Papillon Airways in Las Vegas, was an EC-130 B4. The helicopter model is not required by the Federal Aviation Administration to have a crash-resistant fuel system onboard.

As 9Wants to Know has outlined since a 2015 Flight for Life crash in Frisco, Colorado, most helicopters in use today have fuel systems that remain vulnerable to rupturing after otherwise survivable crashes.

The Frisco crash resulted in a fire that left flight nurse Dave Repsher with burns on more than 90 percent of his skin.

Two weeks ago, Airbus Helicopters and Air Methods agreed to pay Repsher $100 million to settle a case that had been set to begin in March.

While it will likely take until 2019 at the earliest for the NTSB to issue an official cause for the Grand Canyon crash, Stein said Monday his investigative team will examine the aircraft’s fuel system closely effort to determine if its design led to the burns suffered by the survivors or if it contributed to the deaths of the pilot and two passengers.

9Wants to Know found more than 170 fatal helicopter accidents that resulted in post-crash fires since 1994.

“The crash-resistant fuel system is a very important part of this investigation, something we are taking very seriously and looking at very closely,” Stein said.

A Papillon Airways helicopter (right) takes off, January 16, 2018, from Grand Canyon West.

PHOENIX — A day after a tour flight crashed in the Grand Canyon, killing three people and injuring four others, Helicopter Alley was silent.

Air tours over the Grand Canyon were suspended Sunday as investigators tried to determine the cause of the crash. The quiet was rare in an area that normally rattles under the sound of hundreds of helicopters a day.

Demand for flights over the Grand Canyon has spiked in recent years, transforming empty airspace into a travel destination. Thousands of helicopters now fly over the Canyon each year, all competing for business and the same limited space.

“Everybody wants to see the same thing,” said Gary C. Robb, a Kansas City attorney who specializes in helicopter-crash litigation. “It is a recipe for disaster.”

Closely regulated flights

The constant pulse of engines over the West Rim led one visitor to dub the stretch “Hurricane Alley.” It also turned up the volume on a decades-long debate over conservation, federal oversight and helicopter safety.

The Federal Aviation Administration wants to more closely regulate tour flights. Tourism companies want to make more money. Conservationists want to keep the Canyon clean and quiet. Tribal leaders want to maintain control of their land and their economies. And tourists just want to fly.

“You’ve got these agencies that are suspicious of each other,” Dick Hingson, who spent years working on the issue with the Sierra Club, told The Arizona Republic in September. “That’s going to drag it out.”

The Grand Canyon has a long history of air disasters. A 1956 midair collision there killed 128 people and led to the birth of the FAA. Two sightseeing aircraft crashed and killed five people in 1986. A daredevil pilot nicknamed “Kamikaze,” known for dipping in and out of the Canyon on tours, killed himself and six passengers when he crashed in 2003.

Papillon Airways, which operated Saturday’s fatal flight, has been investigated after at least three other fatal crashes in the last 20 years.

As the industry grew and accidents piled up, the FAA tried to limit the danger. It barred flights from dipping below the Canyon rim and mandated a 500-foot buffer zone between aircraft and any obstacles.

Restrictions don't go far enough

Robb and other critics argue the restrictions don’t go far enough. They argue that packed flight schedules often leave little time for routine maintenance and inspections, and tour-flight companies don’t pay enough to attract top-tier pilots.

A report from the National Transportation Safety Board noted the pilot in a 2001 crash had once chased thrills to entertain his passengers.

The Canyon walls also create flight conditions unlike anywhere else in the U.S. Twisted edges and jagged cliffs sometimes send gusts of wind cutting in unexpected patterns. Rough terrain on the canyon rim can make emergency maneuvers difficult to pull off. Even minor mishaps can turn a helicopter into a midair phone booth, with nowhere to go but down.

“The machine and the pilot are put through a lot,” said Michael Slack, another attorney with experience in helicopter-crash cases. “They’re not that strictly regulated.”

On Sunday evening, with flights at the Canyon still grounded, Papillon Airways wasn't accepting reservations for Monday flights. A booking agent said the company had canceled all flights for that day.

Reservations were available for Tuesday.

(CNN) -- Authorities have released the names of the victims of a helicopter crash in the Grand Canyon in Arizona Saturday.

Three people died when a EC-130 helicopter operated by sightseeing tour company Papillon Airways went down at 5:20 p.m. (7:20 p.m. ET) Saturday near Quartermaster Canyon, within the Grand Canyon on the Hualapai Nation.

The six passengers on board were visiting from the United Kingdom, Police Chief Francis E. Bradley Sr. of the Hualapai reservation said.

Passengers Becky Dobson, 27, Jason Hill, 32, and Stuart Hill, 30, suffered fatal injuries in the crash, according to a news release from the Hualapai Nation Police Department. Their bodies were recovered early Sunday afternoon.

Three other passengers and the pilot were injured. They were rescued during an operation that stretched into the early hours of Sunday morning, Bradley said.

The injured pilot was identified as Scott Booth, 42. The hospitalized passengers were identified as Ellie Milward, 29, Jonathan Udall, 32, and Jennifer Barham, 39, according to the police news release.

Rescue efforts

In a statement, Bradley expressed his condolences to the family and friends of the crash victims.

He said first responders and rescuers had arrived at the scene within 30 minutes of the crash: "Without their valiant and diligent efforts to stabilize and rescue the survivors under extreme conditions, we may have had more loss of life," he said.

Bradley earlier said first responders had been hindered by windy, dark and rugged conditions and had a 20-minute hike to the crash scene.

Rescuers got help from military aircraft from Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas and were eventually able to fly all four of the injured to the University Medical Center in Las Vegas, he said. The pilot had severe injury to one of his limbs.

Photos of the crash scene showed flames and dark smoke rising from rocky terrain.

Teddy Fujimoto told CNN affiliate KSNV he was in the area taking photographs when he witnessed the aftermath of the crash.

"I saw these two ladies run out of it, and then an explosion. One of the survivors ... looked all bloody. Her clothes probably were burnt off," Fujimoto told KSNV.

"The ladies were screaming. ... It was just horrible," he said.

FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer earlier said the aircraft sustained considerable damage in the crash.

The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate, Kenitzer said.

Papillon Airways describes itself on its website as "the world's largest aerial sightseeing company" and adds that it provides "the only way to tour the Grand Canyon."

The company says it flies roughly 600,000 passengers a year on Grand Canyon and other tours. It also notes that it "abides by flight safety rules and regulations that substantially exceed the regulations required by the Federal Aviation Administration."

"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," Papillon Group CEO Brenda Halvorson said Sunday.

NTSB records show a helicopter operated by Papillon was involved in a deadly crash on August 10, 2001, near Meadview, Arizona. The pilot and five passengers were killed; one passenger survived, the NTSB report shows.

NTSB investigators determined the probable cause of the 2001 crash was pilot error.

GRAND CANYON WEST — A day after a tour helicopter crashed in the Grand Canyon, killing three and wounding four, the sky above the gorge was unusually quiet.

Air tours were suspended as officials tried to piece together what caused the Papillon Airways helicopter to plummet early Saturday evening.

“I’m not going to begin to speculate,” Hualapai Nation Police Chief Francis Bradley told reporters Sunday afternoon, though he noted a storm had passed through the area about the time of the crash.

A few hours later, officials publicly identified the crash victims. Becky Dobson, 27; Jason Hill, 32; and Stuart Hill, 30, died. Pilot Scott Booth, 42 and passengers Ellie Milward, 29; Jonathan Udall, 32; and Jennifer Barham, 39, survived.

All but the pilot were from the United Kingdom, officials said. Relationships between the passengers were not immediately clear.

High winds, rugged terrain and the crash site’s remote location slowed overnight rescue efforts Saturday. As of Sunday evening, the four survivors remained hospitalized at the University Medical Center of Southern Nevada with “severe” burns and other injuries.

The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office said in a statement that it was “providing support to the families of six British visitors.”

Brenda Halvorson, chief executive officer for Papillon Group, also extended the company’s “heartfelt sympathy to the families involved in this accident.” In a statement, she said the company’s “top priority is the care and needs of our passengers and our staff.”

'Extreme and hostile conditions'

The remote location of the crash site complicated rescue efforts. More than 20 first responders had to hike about 20 minutes to the downed helicopter from an area accessible by certain vehicles.

Emergency crews then had to wait for strong winds to quiet before they could lift passengers out of the canyon. That took about eight hours, Bradley said. 

"They all endured those extreme and hostile conditions of the weather, the darkness and the terrain," he said in a Sunday afternoon press conference. 

Bradley said the multi-agency rescue effort included the Hualapai Nation Police Department, Hualapai Tribe Emergency Services, the Mohave County Sheriff's Office and the Arizona Department of Public Safety, along with paramedics from surrounding agencies. 

As of Sunday afternoon, it was still unclear what caused the EC-130 tour helicopter to go down near Quartermaster Canyon, about 3 miles east of Grand Canyon West Airport. Allen Kenitzer with the Federal Aviation Administration told The Republic the helicopter "crashed under unknown circumstances."

Video posted on Twitter by several news outlets showed flames and smoke at the site.

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were expected to arrive at the site Sunday afternoon, Bradley said. He expected video and other flight information to be recovered.  

The wreckage, which Bradley said was not on the Canyon floor but higher up, will remain in place until investigators allow its removal. 

Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters advertises itself on its website as the "world's largest Grand Canyon sightseeing company." It has been involved in fatal crashes in the past, including one in 2001 that killed the pilot and five people touring the area. 

Bradley said the company has been "more than cooperative" in the crash's aftermath, including offering its tour helicopters to help move first responders and survivors. 

"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," Gov. Doug Ducey tweeted Sunday morning.

'Fire, smoke'

Teddy Fujimoto, a freelance photographer based in Las Vegas, was shooting wedding pictures in the area when the crash occurred. He said he had been in the area for about 15 minutes when the helicopter went down.

He didn’t see the crash, but suddenly, the pilots he was with started running toward the wreckage to help.

Story and video:

Three people were killed and four critically injured when a helicopter touring through the Grand Canyon National Park crashed and exploded in a fireball, officials told ABC News.

As investigators tried to figure out what caused the crash of the Papillon aerial-touring company helicopter -- which was carrying a pilot and six tourists from the United Kingdom -- a witness described to ABC News watching in disbelief as one of the survivors walked out of the flames.

Witness Lionel Douglass, who was attending a wedding on a bluff about 1,000 yards away from where the helicopter crashed and exploded, said the scene reminded him of the biblical story of when Jesus rescued Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego from a fiery furnace they were cast into by King Nebuchadnezzar.

"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," Douglass told ABC News.

The helicopter "sustained substantial damage" when the crash occurred "under unknown circumstances" in the Quartermaster Canyon area of the immense wilderness wonderland on Saturday afternoon, FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer told ABC News.

Kenitzer said the helicopter crashed about three miles east of the Grand Canyon West Airport in Peach Springs, Arizona.

Video taken by witnesses shortly after the crash and posted on Twitter showed the helicopter engulfed in flames and black smoke, surrounded by sage and cactus at the bottom of a steep, rocky canyon.

Hualapai Nation Police Chief Francis Bradley said the crash occurred at 5:20 p.m. local time, with six passengers from the United Kingdom and the pilot on board. He said the helicopter tour originated in Boulder City, Nevada.

Bradley said a storm was rolling into the area around the time of the crash. He said weather conditions were "not normal," but no flight restrictions had been imposed.

He said the crash occurred in an area with extremely rugged terrain and that initial rescue efforts by emergency helicopter were hampered by gusts of up to 50 miles per hour. Bradley said rescuers had to hike into the area and that they didn't get everyone out of the wreckage until about 2 a.m. Sunday.

Douglass told ABC News that he saw the helicopter plummet from the sky after doing two complete circles as if the pilot was searching for a spot to set the aircraft down.

"It happened so fast. When I saw them turning, I wasn't sure what he was doing and by the time I yelled to everybody to turn around and look, it was all out of control," Douglass said. "It fell down between the mountains, the tail broke in half, it hit the bottom and it was the biggest explosion you ever heard and then flames like you never seen before."

He said the initial explosion was followed by five or six others.

He said the woman who staggered out of the flames appeared to be disoriented. Once out of harm's way she collapsed to the ground and began screaming the name Jason.

It is unclear if the pilot is among the injured or deceased.

The four who survived the crash were taken by rescue helicopter to the University Medical Center of Southern Nevada and remained in critical condition Sunday evening, hospital spokeswoman Danita Cohen told ABC News.

According to Papillon's website, it flies roughly 600,000 passengers a year over the Grand Canyon and on other tours.

"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," Brenda Halvorson, chief executive officer of the helicopter touring company's parent company, Papillon Group, said in a statement Sunday afternoon.

Halvorson said the company is cooperating with the National Transportation Safety Board and local authorities investigating the crash.

Original article can be found here  ➤

A tour helicopter crashed on Saturday, under "unknown circumstances," during a tour of the west side of the Grand Canyon, officials said. 

It's not the first time authorities have investigated a deadly helicopter crash involving the tour operator, Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters, the company that touts itself as being "the world's largest aerial sightseeing company" and "the only way to tour the Grand Canyon."

The helicopter carrying seven people went down near Quartermaster Canyon, a side canyon west of Grand Canyon National Park, just before 5:30 p.m. Three people were confirmed dead, and there were four Level 1 trauma patients at the scene, Hualapai Nation Police Chief Francis Bradley said late Saturday. 

The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash. Exact details about what happened, and why, might take months to determine, if history is any indication.

Papillon Airways, which does business as Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters, has been investigated after at least three other fatal crashes. Here is a rundown, based on federal crash investigation reports.

Quartermaster Canyon crash kills six

Aug. 10, 2001: A Papillon Airways tour helicopter crashed during an uncontrolled descent about 4 miles east of Meadview, Arizona. The 27-year-old pilot and five passengers were killed as a result of the wreck and subsequent fire. One passenger survived. 

The midday flight originated from the company terminal at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas for a tour of the western Grand Canyon area and a planned stop at a landing site in Quartermaster Canyon, investigators wrote in the crash report. 

The helicopter departed that landing site about 2 p.m. and stopped at a company fueling facility at Grand Canyon West Airport. 

After leaving the fueling facility bound for Las Las Vegas, the pilot lost control "for undetermined reasons" and crashed into the rugged terrain, investigators said. 

The downward maneuver near a scenic cliff "effectively limited any remedial options" before impact, the report said. One of several passengers interviewed about previous flights with the same pilot called the trip "frightening and thrilling at the same time."

Improper idle setting kills pilot 

May 18, 2014: A Papillon Airways helicopter arrived at a dirt landing pad at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, near the west bank of the Colorado River, after the 26-year-old pilot reported planning to perform a "fluid level check," FAA records show. 

"After landing, the pilot exited the running helicopter; the helicopter was observed going airborne and then impacting the ground and rolling over. The pilot was struck by one or more of the main rotor blades, and was fatally injured," investigators wrote. 

The phrase "fluid check" was widely known to be code pilots used when briefly landing a helicopter so they could "relieve themselves," investigators said.

The pilot left the helicopter in "flight idle" mode, as opposed to "ground idle," for reasons never determined, which caused it to nose forward into the ground and kill the pilot. 

Trainee killed during takeoff

April 1, 1999: A helicopter operated by Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters crashed into a tree when its engine cut off during takeoff from the Canyon airport, killing the pilot-in-training and seriously injuring the instructor.

The trainee pilot had recently been hired, and the incident marked the pilot's second flight as part of the training program. 

Investigators determined the cause of the crash stemmed from the crew's failure to properly prepare the helicopter for flight and to detect and remove accumulated snow from the engine. 

Story and video ➤

Four survivors of a deadly helicopter crash in the Grand Canyon Saturday evening were rescued during an operation that stretched into the early hours of Sunday morning, according to Police Chief Francis E. Bradley Sr. of the Hualapai reservation.

The helicopter was operated by Papillon Airways, an aerial sightseeing company that gives tours of the Grand Canyon and other locations, Bradley said.

Three people died when the EC-130 went down at 5:20 p.m. (7:20 p.m. ET) Saturday near Quartermaster Canyon, within the Grand Canyon on the Hualapai Nation.

A pilot and six passengers were on board, Bradley said.

First responders had difficulty reaching the four survivors due to windy, dark, and rugged conditions, Bradley said.

Rescuers got help from military aircraft from Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas and were eventually able to fly all four of the injured to the University Medical Center in Las Vegas by Sunday morning, Bradley said.

Crews will work Sunday to retrieve the bodies of those who died in the crash, Bradley said, but weather conditions were hampering efforts.

Photos of the crash scene showed flames and dark smoke rising from rocky terrain.

Teddy Fujimoto told CNN affiliate KSNV he was in the area taking photographs when he witnessed the aftermath of the crash.

“I saw these two ladies run out of it, and then an explosion. One of the survivors … looked all bloody. Her clothes probably were burnt off,” Fujimoto told KSNV.

“The ladies were screaming … It was just horrible,” he said.

FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer earlier said the aircraft sustained considerable damage in the crash.

The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate, Kenitzer said.

Papillon Airways describes itself on its website as “the world’s largest aerial sightseeing company” and adds that it provides “the only way to tour the Grand Canyon.”

The company says it flies roughly 600,000 passengers a year on Grand Canyon and other tours. It also notes that it “abides by flight safety rules and regulations that substantially exceed the regulations required by the Federal Aviation Administration.”

Story and video ➤

A rescue effort in the Grand Canyon continued through the night after three people were killed and four were injured when a Papillon Airways helicopter crashed there Saturday afternoon, officials said. 

Just before midnight, Hualapai Nation Police Chief Francis Bradley said four public-safety agencies were working together to save lives.

"The rescue is ongoing," he said. "We have a unified command set up."

The multi-agency effort, he said, included the Hualapai Nation Police Department, Hualapai Tribe Emergency Services, the Mohave County Sheriff's Office and the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

The Eurocopter EC130 carrying seven people crashed under "unknown circumstances," Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer told The Arizona Republic.

Bradley said the Papillon Airways helicopter crashed near Quartermaster Canyon in the Grand Canyon just before 5:30 p.m.

Three people were confirmed dead, and there were four Level 1 trauma patients at the scene, Bradley said in a text sent to The Republic at about 9:45 p.m.

The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash. No further details were immediately available. 

A woman answering the Papillon company phone number for scheduling helicopter tours declined to comment on the crash or deaths. “I don’t have any information on that but to direct you to our PR,” she said late Saturday.

The tour company advertises itself on its website as the "World's Largest Grand Canyon Sightseeing Company."

The company states on its website that "safety is our top priority" and that it is certified by the Tour Operators Program of Safety. 

"Operators who carry a TOPS certification have agreed to operate their airlines to standards that far exceed those set forth by the FAA," the site states, adding that standards are enforced by internal and external audits.

Rates for tours, according to the website, range from $109-$224, with a more expensive $554 flight that includes landing at the bottom of the Canyon, a meal and a walk along the Grand Canyon Skywalk, which juts over the Canyon. Tours from the Grand Canyon's West Rim range from $194-$254.

The West Rim has become a more popular destination for tours since the 2007 opening of the Skywalk. The horseshoe-shaped international attraction extends along a see-through walkway jutting from a craggy cliff and over the depths of one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. 

The Hualapai Tribe manages the steel and glass walkway, which is on its reservation.

Conservationists have balked at the spike in flights, citing worries over how the increased tourism will affect the national park. In Republic archive stories, they expressed worries about safety risks given the history of deadly air travel over the canyon.

Helicopter and airplane crashes at the Canyon date back decades. The creation of the FAA stemmed from a 1956 incident in which two passenger planes collided over the Canyon, killing all 128 people on board.

Hualapai tribal officials said they operate a responsible tourism plan that protects the Canyon and the people who visit it.

Story and video ➤

Passengers disembark at the airport in Boulder City, Nevada, from a Papillon Airways helicopter after flying to the western part of Grand Canyon National Park. This photo was shot in 2017 for a previous Arizona Republic article.

A Papillon Airways helicopter flies over the Colorado River in the area of the Grand Canyon where Saturday's fatal crash occurred. This photo was shot in 2017 for a previous Arizona Republic article.

GRAND CANYON WEST, AZ - Three people have been killed after a helicopter crashed near the Grand Canyon Saturday afternoon, according to Hualapai Nation Police Chief Francis Bradley.

Chief Bradley said a Papillon Airways aircraft carrying a pilot and six passengers crashed in the Quartermaster Canyon sometime around 5:20 p.m.

He said the helicopter was on a tour. 

Dispatch received the emergency call regarding the crash at 5:31 p.m. Multiple agencies are assisting in the investigation.

Allen Kenitzer with the Federal Aviation Administration Office of Communications confirmed in an email that the helicopter, a Eurocopter EC130, "crashed under unknown circumstances in the Grand Canyon."

He said the helicopter "sustained substantial damage" and, citing local authorities, that 7 people were on board.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board will be investigating.

This is one of several incidents in the past two decades involving Las Vegas-based Papillon Airways, according to National Transportation Safety Board crash reports.

In 2001, six people, including the pilot, were killed in a crash near the Grand Wash Cliffs. The tour had stopped at Quartermaster Canyon and was on its way back to Las Vegas, where the tour began, when the helicopter crashed.

In 2009, a helicopter with six passengers crashed after the pilot heard a “loud pop,” but no one was injured.  

In 2014, a pilot was killed after he got out of a running helicopter to go to the bathroom and was struck by rotor blades.


  1. LTE = Loss of Tailrotor Effectiveness. Often this is a result of an unfavorable combination of airspeed, power setting and airframe orientation relative to the wind.