An Airbus Helicopters EC130B4 operated by Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters crashed Saturday night at approximately 5:20 p.m local time in rugged terrain near Quartermaster Canyon on the Hualapai Nation in Arizona, three miles east of the Grand Canyon West Airport, killing three of the seven aboard the air-tour flight. All six passengers were British nationals, according to statement issued by the UK foreign office Sunday night.
The helicopter came to rest in a ravine and caught fire. Survivors were severely injured and high winds that built to 50 mph and darkness made medical evacuation delayed and difficult.
“It is with extreme sadness we extend our heartfelt sympathy to the families involved in this accident,” Papillon Airways said in a statement Sunday. “Our top priority is the care and needs of our passengers and our staff.” Papillon was founded in 1965 and operates a fleet of 48 aircraft and employs 600, flying 600,000 passengers per year from its base in Boulder City, Nevada.
The company has been involved in several accidents/incidents over the last two decades. In 2014, a Papillon pilot was killed after he egressed his helicopter with the engine and main rotor turning. Witnesses said the empty helicopter then became airborne, hit the ground and rolled over. Its rotor blades struck and killed the pilot. A nonfatal 2009 crash was blamed on engine failure.
In 2007, a Papillon passenger committed suicide, jumping from a Papillon Bell 206L. In 2001, a Papillon AS350 crashed killing six of seven aboard, and a 1999 training flight killed the pilot. The NTSB found that the probable cause of the 2001 crash was “the pilot’s decision to maneuver the helicopter in a flight regime and in a high density altitude environment which significantly decreased the helicopter’s performance capability, resulting in a high rate of descent from which recovery was not possible.” Papillon instituted a variety of safety improvements following the 2001 accident.