Witness describes ‘horrible, bloody’ scene at Grand Canyon helicopter crash site

Grand Canyon National Park | Stock image, St. George News

GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, Ariz. (AP) — Four survivors of a deadly tour helicopter crash onto the jagged rocks of the Grand Canyon were being treated at a Nevada hospital on Sunday while crews tackled difficult terrain in a very remote area to try to recover the bodies of three other people.

The three dead were identified early Monday as veterinary receptionist Becky Dobson, 27; her boyfriend, Stuart Hill, 30; and his brother, Jason Hill, 32. Dobson’s father, Peter Dobson, told Britain’s Press Association news agency that the three were staying in Las Vegas for a long weekend.

Read more: Helicopter crash near Grand Canyon results in multiple deaths

Six passengers and a pilot were on board the Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters chopper when it crashed under unknown circumstances on Saturday evening on the Hualapai Nation’s land near Quartermaster Canyon, by the Grand Canyon’s West Rim. A witness said he saw flames and black smoke spewing from the crash site, heard explosions and saw victims who were bleeding and badly burned.

“It’s just horrible,” witness Teddy Fujimoto said. “And those victims — she was so badly burned. It’s unimaginable, the pain.”

Windy conditions, darkness, the remoteness of the area and the rugged terrain made it difficult to reach the helicopter’s wreckage, Hualapai Nation police Chief Francis Bradley said. Rescue crews had to be flown in, walk to the crash site and use night vision goggles to find their way around, he said.

The survivors were airlifted to a Las Vegas hospital by around 2 a.m. Sunday, Bradley said.

National Transportation Safety Board officials were expected at the crash scene by Sunday afternoon to begin investigating what caused the chopper to go down, Bradley said. The Federal Aviation Administration also will be investigating the crash of the Eurocopter EC130, spokesman Allen Kenitzer said.

National Weather Service meteorologists in Flagstaff and Phoenix said wind conditions were an estimated 10 mph (16 kph) with gusts of 20 mph (32 kph) around the time of the crash.

Fujimoto, a Las Vegas photographer who was doing a wedding shoot at the time of the crash, said he suddenly saw people running toward the edge of a gulch. He said he heard gasps and went to check out the commotion coming from about 600 feet (183 meters) below.

“In the gulch, there was a helicopter, flames, smoke,” he said. “It was horrible.”

He said that’s when two or three small explosions went off in the wreckage and people weren’t sure what to do. He said some pilots of helicopters that were also out there decided to try descending into the gulch.

Fujimoto said he saw two badly injured women and one of them was yelling out a man’s name. He said one of them “was pretty much burned all over.”

“Her hands were bloody and body was just more burned,” Fujimoto said.

The other woman, he said, was “covered in blood” and was bleeding from her head or neck.

Fujimoto said he has taken helicopter rides for photo shoots for the past few years and generally felt safe. He said the crash aftermath is the worst thing he’s ever witnessed.

The tour company released a statement Sunday, promising full cooperation with crash investigators and offering sympathy.

“It is with extreme sadness we extend our heartfelt sympathy to the families involved in this accident,” Papillon Group CEO Brenda Halvorson said. “Our top priority is the care and needs of our passengers and our staff.”

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

In August 2001, a Grand Canyon tour helicopter operated by Papillion crashed and burned near Meaview, Arizona. The pilot and five passengers died. An NTSB report issued in 2004 blamed the pilot’s decision to descend too fast and too close to the scenic Grand Wash Cliffs.

UPDATED Feb. 12 with deceased identification, as reported by The Associated Press.


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  • comments February 11, 2018 at 5:23 pm

    “The Nevada-based company’s website says it flies roughly 600,000 passengers a year around the Grand Canyon and on other tours.”

    good lord 600k?

    This is very upsetting. Sad to hear abt these victims, but… I’m still far too upset about having to hear abt the “baby torture porn”. The chopper crash will have to take a backseat to that, i’m afraid.

  • SteveSGU February 11, 2018 at 6:43 pm

    Once again, you used a misleading photo to fill space. Instead of a photo of Toroweap, why didn’t you use a photo from the Grand Canyon West area? They are separated by nearly 100 miles! They are not the same area. (The Grand Canyon is 275 miles long.)

    • mesaman February 11, 2018 at 8:30 pm

      Interesting comment, Steve. I thought the same, especially when AP stated an earlier helio crash near Meaview (Meadview, perhaps?).

  • comments February 11, 2018 at 10:59 pm

    You ppl should be glad to even get a pic of grand canyon. they could’ve used a pic of a cute lil penguin or a teddy bear or something. you ppl need to relax. it isn’t the end of the world

    • R. February 12, 2018 at 11:28 am

      I think the point was that the reporters for Stgeorgenews.com are too lazy to find a more fitting photo. It seems that 90% of the stories are about car accidents which is easy, just listen to a police scanner. I guess it’s a good thing that not much else happens in this area.

      • comments February 12, 2018 at 12:15 pm

        there’s all sorts of bs w/ copyrights. u cant just grab and use any photo.

  • bikeandfish February 12, 2018 at 11:42 am

    The crash was in Quartermaster Canyon which is west of Toroweap. Really heavy air traffic in that area. But I’m not sure the accuracy of a stock photo is the best take away from this unfortunate loss of life.

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