The sad news that six young British tourists were killed or injured in a helicopter crash in the Grand Canyon on 10 February 2018 is yet another wake up call to the US Government to make tourist flights in the region safer.
Over the past 25 years, the helicopter tour companies around the Grand Canyon area have suffered 25 deaths and more than 40 injured passengers.
This particular helicopter operator, Papillon, has had eight accidents with 11 deaths and 13 injured. Just over 15 years ago, Papillon suffered three accidents in three years including the deadliest since 1995 when six were killed and the sole survivor lost both her legs in 2001.
At the time, Papillon management put those accidents down to bad luck, but the US air safety investigators highlighted poor maintenance and pilot error as the probable causes.
The causes of this recent accident are not yet known. There is speculation about the single engine Airbus Helicopter EC-130 performing an emergency manoeuvre following a technical problem. There have been recent adverse comments on social media about Papillon’s helicopter maintenance practices and attitudes to passenger safety.
Head of Aviation James Healy-Pratt (a helicopter pilot with experience of Airbus Helicopters) commented:
“The news of this recent terrible accident is yet another wake up call to the US Federal Aviation Administration and the helicopter tour industry in the Grand Canyon area to finally get their house in order.
Innocent lives continue to be lost in Grand Canyon helicopter tours, in spite of an already poor safety record over the past 25 years. We have had the difficult task of helping families who have lost loved ones in very similar circumstances in previous helicopter tour accidents in the Grand Canyon as well as Hawaii.
It is clear that further regulation is needed to protect the safety of tourists, and a positive start would be forcing operators to use twin engine helicopters. There is no excuse for this business to result in further needless deaths and injuries.”