GRAND CANYON WEST, Ariz. — A day after a tour helicopter crashed in the Grand Canyon, killing three and wounding four, the sky above the gorge was unusually quiet.
Air tours were suspended as officials tried to piece together what caused the Papillon Airways helicopter to plummet early Saturday evening.
“I’m not going to begin to speculate,” Hualapai Nation Police Chief Francis Bradley told reporters Sunday afternoon, though he noted a storm had passed through the area about the time of the crash.
A few hours later, officials publicly identified the crash victims. Becky Dobson, 27; Jason Hill, 32; and Stuart Hill, 30, died. Pilot Scott Booth, 42 and passengers Ellie Milward, 29; Jonathan Udall, 32; and Jennifer Barham, 39, survived.
All but the pilot were from the United Kingdom, officials said. Relationships between the passengers were not immediately clear.
High winds, rugged terrain and the crash site’s remote location slowed overnight rescue efforts Saturday. As of Sunday evening, the four survivors remained hospitalized at the University Medical Center of Southern Nevada with “severe” burns and other injuries.
The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office said in a statement that it was “providing support to the families of six British visitors.”
Brenda Halvorson, chief executive officer for Papillon Group, also extended the company’s “heartfelt sympathy to the families involved in this accident.” In a statement, she said the company’s “top priority is the care and needs of our passengers and our staff.”
'Extreme and hostile conditions'
Overnight rescue operations took hours, officials said.
More than 20 first responders had to hike to the downed helicopter from an area only accessible with certain vehicles. Emergency crews then had to wait for strong winds to quiet before they could lift passengers out of the canyon.
The multi-agency rescue effort included the Hualapai Nation Police Department, Hualapai Tribe Emergency Services, the Mohave County Sheriff's Office and the Arizona Department of Public Safety, along with paramedics from surrounding agencies.
“They all endured those extreme and hostile conditions,” Bradley said.
Officials from the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board took over the investigation Sunday, scrutinizing possible reasons why the EC-130 tour helicopter went down near Quartermaster Canyon.
Bradley said he expected video and other flight information to be recovered from the wreckage, which will remain in place until investigators authorize its removal.
Teddy Fujimoto, a freelance photographer based in Las Vegas, was shooting wedding pictures in the area when the crash occurred. He said he’d been there for about 15 minutes when the helicopter went down.
He didn’t see the crash, he said, but suddenly, the pilots he was with started running toward the wreckage to help.
He followed them to an area about 600 feet above the crash scene.
“When I got to the edge of the gulch, there was a helicopter on fire, smoke. That’s when I started taking photos,” he told The Arizona Republic on Sunday via phone. “We were right in the middle of the shoot when all of this happened.”
Tourists who were in the area of Saturday's crash took to social media to share their experience about the incident.
Deadly Grand Canyon helicopter crash
Kaitlyn Rodriguez posted on Facebook that she was on the tour, though in a different helicopter, and witnessed the crash moments after her helicopter landed. She said several witnesses "trekked down into the ravine to assist the survivors" and then became stranded in the Canyon for hours.
"Our hearts and our prayers are with the victims of this very tragic crash in the Grand Canyon, as well as all the first responders and medics involved in critical rescue efforts," Gov. Doug Ducey tweeted Sunday.
Contributing: Matthew Jacobson, The (St. George, Utah) Spectrum. Follow The Arizona Republic on Twitter: @azcentral