Originally Published: September 22, 2003 6:10 p.m.
PHOENIX — Crews expected to recover the bodies today of seven people who died in a helicopter that crashed into the Grand Canyon over the weekend.
The helicopter went down Saturday in the western reaches of the Grand Canyon. It was flying tourists to a helipad along the Colorado River, where they were to board a pontoon boat, said Jim Granquist, CEO of Las Vegas-based Sundance Helicopters Inc., which operated the aircraft.
The helicopter burst into flames on impact, according to the Mohave County Sheriff's Office.
The helicopter had taken off from the Grand Canyon West Airport, near Peach Springs, with the pilot and six passengers aboard, Federal Aviation Administration officials said. Passengers flew by plane from Las Vegas to board the helicopter.
Two of the passengers were Japanese citizens and at least two others were German tourists, said Carlos Rooks, a spokesman for the sheriff's office. He said the pilot was also Japanese. According to the Japanese consulate in Los Angeles, the pilot was a Japanese citizen who was a permanent legal resident of the United States.
Authorities have not released the identities of the victims pending family notification.
Rooks said recovery crews had to hike to the crash site Sunday because the terrain was accessible only by foot. The National Transportation Safety Board and FAA were among the agencies investigating.
Three NTSB investigators were to begin hiking to the scene this morning, said Terry Williams, an NTSB spokesman.
Williams had no information on Sunday on the cause of the crash or any information about any previous incidents involving the helicopter.
Granquist said that to his knowledge the helicopter had no record of mechanical problems. He said it was the first fatal accident involving a Sundance helicopter.
"It takes a chunk out of your heart," Granquist said.
The company offers the tour in a section of the Grand Canyon where the Hualapai Indian Reservation is located.
The accident was the second deadliest canyon tour crash since 1995, when a plane went down while trying to return to Grand Canyon Airport, killing eight people.
It followed by two years an August 2001 crash in the same general area of a sightseeing helicopter owned by Papillon Airways and Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters. Six people aboard that helicopter died. A federal report said it didn't appear the helicopter suffered mechanical failure before it slammed into steep cliffs.
Other recent helicopter crashes near the Grand Canyon include:
• May 2003: A Grand Canyon tour helicopter crashed about 15 miles east of Meadview, not far from Sunday's crash site, injuring the pilot. No one else was on board. Papillon also owned and operated that helicopter. The sightseeing helicopter crashed in a remote desert area under unknown circumstances.
• September 2002: A Las Vegas-based sightseeing helicopter crashed near the Grand Canyon. A Dutch tourist suffered a broken leg, but five other passengers and the pilot were unharmed. A preliminary federal report blamed hydraulic failure for the crash.
On the Net:
Sundance Helicopters Inc. http://www.helicoptour.com/
National Transportation Safety Board http://www.ntsb.gov/