GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, Ariz. (AP) – Four survivors of a tour helicopter crash in the Grand Canyon were being treated at a Nevada hospital Sunday while crews were recovering the bodies of three others, authorities said.
Six passengers and a pilot were on board the Papillion Grand Canyon Helicopters chopper when it crashed under unknown circumstances around 5:20 p.m. Saturday on the Hualapai Nation near Quartermaster Canyon, which is near the Grand Canyon’s West Rim and about 60 miles west of Peach Springs.
Hualapai Nation Police Chief Francis Bradley said the survivors were airlifted to a Las Vegas hospital as of 2 a.m. Sunday.
Authorities said all four were level 1 trauma patients. The identities and nationalities of the dead and injured weren’t immediately released.
“We are in the recovery and investigation mode now,” Bradley told The Associated Press.
Bradley said National Transportation Safety Board officials were expected at the crash scene by Sunday afternoon to begin investigating the cause.
The Federal Aviation Administration also will be investigating the crash of the Eurocopter EC130, spokesman Allen Kenitzer said.
Bradley said rescue crews were hampered by high winds and darkness Saturday night along with rugged terrain.
“First responders had to be flown in and walk to the crash site,” he said. “Quartermaster Canyon is an extremely remote area. We had to call in specially trained crews – people with night-vision goggles.”
National Weather Service meteorologists in Flagstaff and Phoenix said wind conditions were an estimated 10 mph with gusts of 20 mph around the time of the crash.
Calls and emails to Nevada-based Papillion for comment on the crash were not immediately returned Sunday.
The company’s website says it flies roughly 600,000 passengers a year around the Grand Canyon and on 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.”
In August 2001, a Grand Canyon tour helicopter operated by Papillon 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 GrandWash Cliffs.