Four pulled from helicopter crash treated at UMC; investigators to arrive this afternoon

A helicopter burns after crashing near Quartermaster Canyon on the west rim of the Grand Canyon on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018. Three people were killed and four were critically injured n the crash. (Teddy Fujimoto photo)

The four survivors of a tour helicopter crash in the Grand Canyon are in critical condition and are being treated at UMC.

"All four were flown sometime after 2 a.m. to UMC," Hualapai Police Department Chief Francis Bradley told News 3 on Sunday morning.

The chief said high winds, darkness and initial lack of air support hampered the rescue efforts after the 5:20 p.m. Saturday crash killed three and injured four passengers. A pilot and six sightseers were on a Eurocopter EC130 when it crashed near Quartermaster Canyon on the Hualapai Nation, about 60 miles west of Peach Springs, Ariz., under unknown circumstances.

The helicopter was operated by Boulder City-based Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters. It is unknown if the flight departed from Boulder City or another location.

"I cannot speculate on what caused the crash, but we had winds of up to 50 miles an hour on the west rim yesterday," Bradley said.

"Once the initial first responders were flow in it got dark," Bradley said. "We had about 24 people on the ground from first responders to EMS to law enforcement and others from various agencies."

At least one air crew from Nellis Air Force Base helped with the rescue effort.

UMC spokeswoman Danita Cohen has confirmed that all four patients are in critical condition.

At the crash site, the recovery of the bodies is planned Sunday.

"We are now in the recovery mode," Bradley said.

The NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) investigators are expected to arrive sometime this afternoon to begin their investigation, he said.

Papillion's website says it flies about 60,000 passengers a year to the Grand Canyon.

Here is a statement from Papillon:

It is with extreme sadness we extend our heartfelt sympathy to the families involved in this accident. Our top priority is the care and needs of our passengers and our staff. Family members seeking immediate assistance, please call 1-866-512-9121. We are cooperating fully with NTSB investigators and local authorities.

-Brenda Halvorson, chief executive officer, Papillon Group

It is believed that the EC130 that crashed was purchased by Papillon sometime after 2012. If so, it would have a more powerful Turbomeca Arriel 2D turboshaft engine after the helicopter was upgraded.

Las Vegas photographer Teddy Fujimoto saw the crash first hand as he photographed a wedding.

"Our pilot and other pilots all started running," he told the website "I followed them and I saw smoke. Immediately saw two girls. I could see that they were alive and conscious. They were in their 30s or 40s."

Fujimoto said the scene was one of confusion and helplessness before emergency crews arrived.

"A lot of chaos going on," Fujimoto recalled. "They were down in the valley, around 600 feet down from where we were. People made their way down. It was certainly dangerous and a mazy climb down for them."

"It took around 10 minutes for the emergency services to arrive," he continued. "By the time they did, most of the fire was out."

Fujimoto says that the experience is not one he'll soon forget.

"Everybody was in shock. I just felt horrible," Fujimoto said. "You could hear the screaming loudly, even from all that way away. I've never seen anything like it."

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