Air Tour Accidents at and around Grand Canyon

The following list shows Grand Canyon air tour accidents since 1980, as well as incidents involving operators who offer air tours around Grand Canyon. All dates are linked to online reference materials such as news articles and NTSB reports…

5/18/2014: Part 91 air tour operation by Papillon, a Eurocopter AS350, flying an air tour out of Las Vegas. Passengers had been off-loaded at a landing spot in the bottom of the canyon, and the pilot repositioned the helicopter. The NTSB Preliminary Report stated that witnesses reported the pilot was planning on exiting the helicopter to perform a “fluid level check.” When the pilot exited the running helicopter, the helicopter soon became airborne without the pilot. During the subsequent uncontrolled flight and impact, the helicopter rolled over and the pilot was struck by one or more of the main rotor blades. At least one commenter to a news article mentioned strong winds, but it is not clear if wind was a factor, or if the air tour operators have set up any wind instrumentation at or near the accident site. The pilot was killed.

5/10/2014: Part 91 air tour operation by American Aviation (based in Salt Lake City), a Cessna T207 departing out of the Page, AZ airport. Six tourists were on board when the engine experienced a loss of power, twenty minutes into the flight. The pilot returned to the airport and set up for a normal landing, but for unexplained reasons he landed a few hundred feet short of the intended runway. The aircraft flipped over in windy conditions. A 79-yr-old woman from France died; one passenger sustained serious injuries; the pilot and four other passengers sustained minor injuries.

Coroner conferring with search and rescue personnel.

Coroner conferring with search and rescue personnel. (Reuters pic)

12/7/2011: Part 135 air tour operation by Sundance Helicopters, a Eurocopter AS350 helicopter, flying the ‘twilight tour’ sightseeing trip between Las Vegas and Hoover Dam. The helicopter crashed and caught fire in rugged mountainous terrain. NTSB cited maintenance failures and employee fatigue issues. All five on board were killed. [article]

9/30/2010: Part 135 air tour operation by Maverick Helicopters, a Eurocopter EC-130 departing from a remote landing site three miles from Grand Canyon West Airport. While maneuvering to depart, the tail rotor impacted a picnic table umbrella. The umbrella canvas was partially ingested into the tail rotor. NTSB reported that the pilot felt fatigued. NTSB also established from the helicopter video that there was substantial tour traffic from other helicopters which may have distracted the pilot from noticing his close proximity to the umbrella. The pilot and six air tour passengers were not injured.

12/6/2009: Part 135 air tour operation by Heli-USA Airways Inc., an Aerospatiale AS355 helicopter, flying from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon. An engine cowling door opened in flight, causing substantial damage and forcing a landing near Temple Bar, AZ. NTSB determined that the pilot had rushed through his preflight inspection and failed to properly latch the cowling door. Two of the three main rotor blades were damaged when the door popped open in flight. There were no injuries to the pilot or the six air tour passengers.

3/3/2009: Part 135 air tour, owned by XEBEC LLC and operating for Papillon, a Eurocopter AS350 being flown to the canyon from Las Vegas. The pilot heard a loud pop while descending into a canyon and had a loss of main rotor rpm. An emergency landing was safely made. NTSB determined that oil starvation had occurred to an engine shaft bearing, causing the failure. The pilot and six air tour passengers were all uninjured.

11/15/2007: Part 135 air tour operation by Maverick Helicopters, flying a Eurocopter EC-130. The pilot had just landed at Grand Canyon West Airport when another Maverick helicopter maneuvered to land in close proximity, roughly 40-50 feet away. The vortices created by the second helicopter’s main rotor blades caused the main rotor blades of the landed helicopter to flex downward before impacting its tailboom, which resulted in substantial damage to the standing helicopter. The pilot and six air tour passengers were all uninjured.

9/27/2007: Part 135 air tour operation by Maverick Helicopters, a Eurocopter EC-130, thirty minutes after departing from Las Vegas. While passing about five miles north of Meadview, AZ, the helicopter collided with an eagle, shattering and cracking numerous windshield sections. A forced landing was made to a nearby uncontrolled airport. Three had minor injuries, and five others were uninjured.

10/3/2005: Part 135 air tour operation by Maverick Helicopters, an Aerospatiale AS350 helicopter, landing at the airport in Tusayan. Gusty winds disrupted a 3-foot hover and the pilot’s reaction created a ground resonance event. The pilot was able to recover, though the tail boom sustained substantial damage. The pilot and six air tour passengers were all uninjured.

7/12/2004: Part 135 air tour operation by Maverick Helicopters, a Eurocopter AS350 helicopter, taking off from the Grand Canyon West Airport [1G4]. The pilot lifted off toward the southwest, then noticed that the helicopter was not climbing. His attempts to correct the situation all failed, and a hard landing ensued, bending the right skid and buckling the tail boom aft of the fuselage. Review of the helicopter’s external video recording showed the pilot was taking off downwind. The pilot and six air tour passengers were all uninjured.

9/20/2003: Part 135 air tour operation by Sundance Helicopters, an Aerospatiale AS350 helicopter, impacted a canyon wall while maneuvering through Descent Canyon, about 1.5 nautical miles east of Grand Canyon West Airport. NTSB cited the pilot’s disregard of safe flying procedures and misjudgment of the helicopter’s proximity to terrain. NTSB also cited Sundance and FAA for failed safety oversight of the air tour operations. The pilot and all six passengers were killed.

20030920.. crash site pic by NTSB

Sundance crash site photo by NTSB, showing debris and charred cliffs.

7/5/2003: Part 135 air tour operation by Sundance Helicopters, an Aerospatiale AS350 helicopter, experienced an in-flight electrical failure and was forced to land at Temple Bar, AZ. A hard landing and a tail rotor ground strike caused the helicopter to bounce back up. During the second landing, the helicopter flipped onto its right side. NTSB cited the pilot’s failure to follow emergency procedures. Four passengers were injured; the pilot and one other passenger were uninjured.

5/28/2002: Part 91 air tour operation by Papillon, a Bell 206 helicopter, flying small passenger groups to and from a landing spot at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. On the third flight of the day, while positioning to pick up passengers, the pilot misjudged and impacted terrain on his landing approach. The pilot received minor injuries.

8/10/2001: Part 135 air tour operation by Papillon, a Eurocopter AS350, flying an air tour out of Las Vegas. Impacted terrain and burned in the Grand Wash Cliffs area, near Meadview.

20010810.. crash debris pic, GrandWashCliffs

Grand Wash Cliffs crash debris (NTSB pic)

The flight had originated at LAS, flew to the canyon area, then added fuel at Grand Canyon West Airport. The crash happened minutes after the start of the return flight. The NTSB report included a quote by the Papillon manager at the South Rim (Tusayan), saying: “The mechanics said that Kevin was the only pilot that they felt comfortable with on test flights.” NTSB cited pilot error, noting that the accident was caused when the pilot descended too fast and too close to a scenic cliff in the canyon. Years later, NTSB granted a petition by Lon Halvorson of Papillon; an amended NTSB Report was then produced, and the conclusion was modified and became: “the probable cause of this accident was the pilot’s loss of control of the helicopter for undetermined reasons.” The pilot and five passengers were killed; one passenger survived but lost her husband and both legs.

9/18/2000: Part 135 air tour operation by Papillon, a Sikorsky S-55 helicopter, flying an air tour out of Las Vegas. The flight proceeded toward the canyon but suddenly lost engine power and made an emergency landing near Hoover Dam. The maintenance records showed this was a highly modified, ex-military helicopter, with a series of registrations as ‘experimental’. NTSB cited Papillon’s failure to properly respond to maintenance indications that an eventual engine failure was likely. The pilot and six passengers sustained minor injuries.

4/16/2000: Part 135 air tour operation by Papillon, a Bell 407 helicopter, flying an air tour out of Tusayan. Five minutes after taking off, a violent shaking developed and the pilot made an emergency landing to a small clearing. It was determined that an oil cooler fan bearing had failed. The pilot and five passengers were all uninjured.

4/1/1999: Part 135 training operation by Papillon, flying a Bell 206 helicopter. A trainee pilot had recently been hired and was receiving initial new-hire training. The helicopter had been parked outside the night before, and procedures to install engine inlet covers had not been followed. The trainee pilot and the Papillon instructor made numerous attempts to start the engine, but it kept dying. The engine finally started after the sixth try. While transitioning from takeoff to forward flight, the engine died again, and the flight impacted a tree at thirty feet above the ground. NTSB determined that ingestion of as little as six ounces of snow/slush could cause an engine to flame out. Both pilots were seriously injured, and the trainee pilot died of his injuries.

19950213.. GCN crash scene pic

click on photo to see the story and other pics at LostFlights.com

2/13/1995: Part 135 air tour operation by Las Vegas Airlines, a Piper Navajo carrying nine Taiwanese passengers from Tusayan back to North Las Vegas. The pilot departed Runway 21 and soon declared an emergency with one engine out. He maneuvered at low altitude, flying a wide pattern in an attempt to return and land at Tusayan. Six minutes later the flight impacted trees and erupted in fire. The investigation uncovered failures in FAA’s oversight of the air tour operation. NTSB cited gusting winds, altitude, and the pilot’s decision to try to return to the airport as causal factors. The pilot and seven passengers died; two other passengers were seriously injured.

8/7/1993: Part 135 air tour operation by Papillon, a collision between two Bell 206 helicopters at the Grand Canyon Airport in Tusayan. Both helicopters had a 37-foot main rotor diameter, and each helicopter was carrying six air tour passengers. One helicopter was hover-taxiing to park at ‘spot zero’, while the other was waiting for permission to move off of ‘spot one’. ‘Spot zero’ is wedged between a chain-link fence and ‘spot one’, where the other helicopter was waiting, with its main rotor spinning. ‘Spot one’ lacked sufficient room to safely maneuver, and the main rotors of the two helicopters meshed, bringing the two helicopters together. NTSB cited pilot failures as well as a company failure to ensure safe clearance distances for operating multiple helicopters. Of the fourteen people involved, three were seriously injured, nine had minor injuries, and two were uninjured.

7/12/1993: Part 135 air tour operation by Air Nevada Airlines, a Cessna 402 carrying two passengers, taking off from Las Vegas on a flight to Grand Canyon Airport in Tusayan. The pilot had gotten back from an earlier roundtrip to GCN, just a half hour prior to this departure. Immediately after takeoff, the pilot informed the tower that he had an open cargo door and needed to return. He then proceeded to turn for right traffic, but lacked airspeed and stalled. The impact was nose-first and caused an explosion. All three on board were killed.

6/19/1992: Part 135 air tour operation by Adventure Airlines, a Cessna 402 carrying nine passengers, taking off from Grand Canyon West Airport, fifteen miles east of Meadview, AZ. The airport was a dirt strip sloping upward toward the south. The flight took off into strong south winds, and the pilot soon radioed that he had a problem. He attempted to maneuver for a landing, but the aircraft stalled and crashed. All ten were killed.

1/13/1992: Part 135 air tour operation by Air Vegas, a Cessna T210 carrying four passengers from Tusayan back to Las Vegas. While cruising at 10,500 feet, the engine manifold pressure dropped and the pilot set up to land at a nearby airport. The aircraft touched down roughly 300 feet short of the runway. The pilot chose to press on and impacted the side of Mount Wilson at 4,800 feet elevation. NTSB cited deficient maintenance. The pilot and one passenger were killed; the three other passengers were all seriously injured.

12/10/1991: Part 135 air tour operation by Las Vegas Airlines, a Piper Navajo carrying four French tourists from Tusayan back to the North Las Vegas Airport. Deteriorating weather was encountered in the vicinity of Temple Bar Marina, at Lake Mead. The pilot chose to press on and impacted the side of Mount Wilson at 4,800 feet elevation. NTSB cited poor pilot judgment and weather. The pilot and all four passengers were killed.

5/13/1991: Part 135 air tour operation by Air Grand Canyon, a Cessna T207 departure out of Tusayan for an air tour. Eight minutes into the flight, the engine seized, and the pilot was forced to land with no safe landing spots available. NTSB cited maintenance failures. The pilot and six passengers were all killed in the crash landing.19910513.. KGCN Crash plaque, AZ-Swiss-Society

4/13/1990: Part 135 air tour operation by Windrock Airlines, a Cessna T207 out of Tusayan for an air tour. At the end of the flight, while landing onto hilly, forested terrain. NTSB cited poor training of the pilot, who failed to apply appropriate procedures for the turbo-charged engine. The pilot and all six passengers were seriously injured.

10/10/1989: Part 91 air tour operation by Lake Powell Air Service, a Cessna T207 lost power during the flight and a forced landing was made. NTSB determined that the engine shaft had fractured. The pilot and two passengers were all seriously injured.

9/27/1989: Part 135 air tour operation by Grand Canyon Airlines, a DHC-6 Twin Otter landing at the airport in Tusayan. The flight bounced twice on Runway 21, then the pilot initiated a go-around. While climbing through 150-200 feet, the plane stalled and crashed. NTSB cited pilot technique and coordination failures. distraction, noting the helicopter tour pilot would routinely turn his head to talk to his passengers. NTSB also cited FAA for failed oversight of the air tour operations. Ten were killed, nine suffered serious injuries, and two suffered minor injuries.

6/18/1986: Midair collision involving two Part 135 air tour operators: a DHC-6 Twin Otter (Grand Canyon Airlines) and a Bell 206 helicopter (Heliteck). 19860618.. Twin Otter ramp picThe two collided in the Tonto Plateau / Crystal Rapids area. NTSB cited pilot distraction, noting the helicopter tour pilot would routinely turn his head to talk to his passengers. NTSB also cited FAA for failed safety oversight of the air tour operations. All 25 on board the two flights were killed.

7/29/1984: Part 135 air tour operation by Bauer Helicopters, a Fairchild-Hiller helicopter, flying a Grand Canyon air tour out of Las Vegas. The pilot impacted a juniper tree while flying up a canyon, at an elevation of 5,020 feet. NTSB cited pilot judgment as a causal factor. Three were killed, and two others sustained serious injuries.

8/17/1983: Part 135 air tour operation by Las Vegas Airlines, a twin-engine Piper Navajo, flying a Grand Canyon air tour with nine Italian tourists out of Las Vegas. The pilot encountered building weather, lost flight visibility, and crashed into hilly terrain at an elevation of 6,320 feet. NTSB cited pilot failure and weather as causal factors. The pilot and all nine passengers were killed.

7/21/1980: Part 135 air tour operation by Scenic Airline, a twin-engine Cessna 404, departing Tusayan for Phoenix. Crashed on takeoff. NTSB found faulty maintenance performed four days before the accident. The pilot and all seven passengers were killed.