The fatal crash of an Aerospatiale AS 350 at the Grand Canyon on August 10 was the fourth fatal accident of a Papillon Helicopters tour flight since September 1985 and the second for the operator in the Grand Canyon since April 1999 (in which the sole pilot was the only one killed). According to the NTSB, last month’s crash, which killed the pilot and five passengers, was the second accident for Papillon in which passengers were killed (two passengers and the pilot were killed in a crash in Hawaii in 1994). NTSB records also show that Las Vegas-based Papillon was involved in 10 non-fatal air-tour accidents since September 1985. The company said it has carried more than four million passengers since its inception in 1965.
After the accident, the United States Air Tour Association (USATA) moved quickly to “reassure” tourists that Grand Canyon sightseeing flights are safe. In a press release, the association said its seven Grand Canyon members alone have flown nearly five million tourists on more than 604,361 air-tour flights over the Grand Canyon since 1991. During the past decade, the USATA said there have been seven fatal air-tour accidents (by airplanes and helicopters) with tourists aboard. Four of the fatal crashes were by three companies no longer in business.
The association noted that last month’s Papillon accident was the first helicopter fatality involving passengers in the Grand Canyon since a 1986 midair between an air-tour fixed-wing aircraft and a helicopter. “Our industry’s safety record of carrying 5.3 million tourists on more than 700,000 flights with only seven fatal accidents in 10 years demonstrates that statistically more than 99.999 percent of our flights are conducted safely,” said USATA president Steve Bassett.