Factual Report: Air-tour helo hits mountain

 - March 20, 2008, 6:30 AM

EUROCOPTER AS 350-B2, MEADVIEW, ARIZ., AUG. 10, 2001–At 2:28 p.m. MST Eurocopter helicopter N169PA, operating as Papillon 34, crashed during an uncontrolled descent about four miles east of Meadview. The helicopter was operated by Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters as an air-tour flight under FAR Part 135. The instrument-rated commercial pilot and five passengers were killed, and one remaining passenger was seriously injured. The helicopter was destroyed in the accident. N169PA was on a VFR flight plan operating in VMC.

The flight originated from Papillon’s terminal at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (LAS) at about 12:45 p.m. as a tour of the west Grand Canyon area with a planned stop at a landing site in Quartermaster Canyon. The helicopter departed the landing site at about 2 p.m. and stopped at a company refueling facility at the Grand Canyon West Airport. It then departed the fuel facility at 2:20 p.m. and was en route back to Las Vegas when the accident occurred.

The accident site was located at an elevation of 4,041 feet msl on the western side of an escarpment known as the Grand Wash Cliffs in steeply sloped mountainous terrain. The average elevation of the top of the Grand Wash Cliffs was about 5,500 feet msl. The wreckage path was oriented into the direction of the cliff face and rising terrain. All ground scars were confined to the immediate vicinity of the wreckage within the approximate diameter of the main rotor. The landing skids of the helicopter were spread apart and their cross tubes had rotated rearward in their fuselage attachments.

An examination of the aircraft systems and engine did not reveal any pre-crash mechanical malfunction or deficiency. The aircraft gross weight at the time of the accident was estimated to be about 4,515 pounds, with the center of gravity within longitudinal and lateral limits. The ambient outside air temperature was estimated to be 36 degrees C at the impact altitude. NTSB investigators were joined by personnel from the FAA, American Eurocopter, Turbomeca and Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters.