HELICOPTER crashes near Grand Canyon, killing five family members and pilot

Saturday, August 11th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LAS VEGAS (AP) _ The cause of a tourist helicopter crash near the Grand Canyon that killed six people remained under investigation Saturday, and the sole survivor was in critical condition.

The flight that crashed Friday was operated by Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters of Las Vegas. The company called off all of Saturday's scheduled flights out of Las Vegas out of respect for the victims' families, said Robert Graff, vice president for marketing.

The victims' names were not immediately released, with authorities saying only that five of them and the survivor were members of one family from New York, all members of the Orthodox Jewish faith.

The surviving 23-year-old woman was burned over 80 percent of her body.

The sixth victim was the pilot.

``We lost a real good pilot and a real good friend,'' said a Papillon employee, Bob Gale. ``It's a crushing ordeal.''

The American Eurocopter AS350 helicopter crashed and burned about 3,700 feet up the 5,600-foot Grand Wash Cliffs, a desolate roadless area but a popular place for tourist helicopters because of its signature red rock formations.

The crash site, just outside the boundaries of Grand Canyon National Park, is about 4 miles east of Meadview, Ariz., and 70 miles east of Las Vegas.

The Federal Aviation Administration said the cause of the crash had not been determined. National Transportation Safety Board investigators were expected to join FAA officials on Saturday.

Authorities were beginning efforts to remove the bodies from the crash site Saturday, said Mohave County Sheriff's Department spokesman Steve Johnson. He said each body would have to be flown out by helicopter.

It was the deadliest canyon tour accident since Feb. 13, 1995, when a plane crashed while trying to return to Grand Canyon Airport, killing eight people.

NTSB records show Papillon has been involved in four helicopter crashes along the Colorado River during the last three years.

A June 1986 tour plane's crash that killed 25 led to new rules that prohibit flying below the canyon rim. Safety and noise considerations have led to other flight restrictions.