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Dec-08-2011 00:59printcomments

Helicopter Tour Flight Near Las Vegas Crashes: Five Dead

At this point, there is no known cause for the crash and few details.

Scene of the helicopter crash: courtesy: Business Recorder Photo: AFP - Agence France-Presse

(SALEM) - A helicopter pilot and four passengers were killed in a crash out of Las Vegas Wednesday around 5:00 p.m. Andrew Munoz with the National Park Service, says the aircraft was operated by Sundance Helicopters.

File photo from airport-data.com, of a
Sundance Aerospatiale AS350

It came down about four miles west of the edge of Lake Mead, in the River Mountains.

A security employee who works in the national recreational area at Lake Mead, heard the impact of the crash and observed a column of smoke that marked the spot of the wreckage.

The crash happened in an area about 30 miles from Las Vegas, that can not be accessed by road, however Las Vegas TV station KTNV, reports several witnesses observed smoke and "what appeared to be wreckage" in the area of the reported crash. The River Mountains contain a non-motorized trail that stretches almost 40-miles through the recreation area; it is not clear whether or not that is aiding the recovery effort.

A Las Vegas Metro Police spokesman named Bill Cassell, told reporters that rescuers initially were dispatched to the isolated crash site, but that it became a recovery mission when it was determined that all five people aboard the Aerospatiale AS350, a six-passenger helicopter, had perished in the crash and subsequent fire.

Cassell says teams will now wait until morning to continue their efforts, as the location of the crash is difficult to access.

At this point, there is no known cause for the crash and few other details.

Sundance Helicopters has been in operation since 1985, and is reported to be the largest helicopter company in Las Vegas. They fly Grand Canyon helicopter tours daily, and state on their Website, that they fly "more than 160,000 customers safely each year."

Grand Canyon Scenic Flight Crashes

Main wreckage debris field. Photo: NTSB

This sadly, is not the first time that this helicopter company has seen passengers die on their flights. It isn't unique, however it is fair to expect that pilots in the employ of this company or any other charged with transporting human beings on flight tours, would take every< possible precaution to ensure safety and preserve life, along with the federal agencies that regulate that level of safety of flight passengers.

However both come into question, when examining one deadly crash that happened just more over eight years ago, in September 2003, in the Grand Canyon. It claimed the lives of all seven people aboard. The narrative from the wake of the crash by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), tells a story of a company that may have seriously overlooked glaring warning signs about a particular pilot's tendency to push the envelope way too far.

The crash happened, according to the NTSB, when the Sundance Tour helicopter came too close to the canyon wall, lost control and crashed and burned in an extremely remote spot.

A review of the report, indicates that in spite of complaints about his flight behavior, Sundance kept this pilot on their team even though he scared his passengers to the point that at least one demanded money back and declared that they thought they "were going to die" due to the steep dives and erratic movements experienced when flying with the veteran pilot, who was 44-years old.

"The investigation determined that, although the accident pilot was experienced and considered highly skilled, he repeatedly flew recklessly and well outside Sundance’s operations policy," the NTSB report states.

The agency stated that the pilot in the 2003 crash, who was the subject of many complaints but still flying, "pushed the aircraft, pushed the rules of flight in Descent Canyon."

As far as the reason for the 2003 crash, the NTSB concluded, "the probable cause of this accident was the pilot’s disregard of safe flying procedures and misjudgment of the helicopter’s proximity to terrain, which resulted in an in-flight collision with a canyon wall. Contributing to the accident was the failure of Sundance Helicopters and the Federal Aviation Administration to provide adequate surveillance of Sundance’s air tour operations in Descent Canyon."

2001 Crash and a $38 Million Survivor

Family photo of Chana and David Daskal, prior
to the 10 August 2001 crash that killed David and
left Chandra with severe burns.

However it was two years before, 10 August 2001, when a scenic helicopter crash out of Papillon Airways crashed in the Grand Canyon killing several members of an Orthodox Jewish family from Brooklyn, New York. We all felt such sadness for the young woman named Chana Daskal, who miraculously survived, she had third-degree burns over 85 percent of her body, she lost her husband that day, but was able to survive and after more than 40 surgeries and the loss of one leg and one foot, she was awarded a settlement of $38 million for the crash.

I will never forget while covering the crash, at Papillon; watching their employees verbally abuse news people at their company headquarters who were waiting for a spokesman to talk.

It wasn't like it was not bad enough, but people who work in these roles and do so knowing the risk, should be able to find a better way to handle the natural reaction from news media and the public to a crash that claims so many people.

Most of all, I thought that the only thing that mattered that day was the life of an amazing young woman; a mother who wanted desperately to see her children grow up.

That crash in 2001, was the deadliest since 1995, when an aircraft crashed while attempting to return to the Grand Canyon Airport. That crash claimed the lives of eight people.

Of course I will never forget the story from a friend who also shot TV news in Las Vegas, named Ronnie White, who was in a helicopter that crashed in the canyon on I believe, its first day of operation for the station.

I recall his talking about how nobody had jackets and while the crash was minor and didn't involve injuries, it did set the stage for an extremely cold night.


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Tim King has more than twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. In addition to his role as a war correspondent, this Los Angeles native serves as Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor. Tim spent the winter of 2006/07 covering the war in Afghanistan, and he was in Iraq over the summer of 2008, reporting from the war while embedded with both the U.S. Army and the Marines. Tim is a former U.S. Marine.

Tim holds awards for reporting, photography, writing and editing, including the Silver Spoke Award by the National Coalition of Motorcyclists (2011), Excellence in Journalism Award by the Oregon Confederation of Motorcycle Clubs (2010), Oregon AP Award for Spot News Photographer of the Year (2004), First-place Electronic Media Award in Spot News, Las Vegas, (1998), Oregon AP Cooperation Award (1991); and several others including the 2005 Red Cross Good Neighborhood Award for reporting. Tim has several years of experience in network affiliate news TV stations, having worked as a reporter and photographer at NBC, ABC and FOX stations in Arizona, Nevada and Oregon. Tim was a member of the National Press Photographer's Association for several years and is a current member of the Orange County Press Club.

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