5 killed in US helicopter crash

2011-12-08 11:31
Los Angeles - A helicopter flying tourists to see the Hoover Dam crashed on Wednesday in mountains near Las Vegas, Nevada, killing four passengers and a pilot, a US National Park Service spokesperson said.

The Sundance Helicopters' chopper "crashed in the River Mountains on the western side of Lake Mead National Recreation Area," just before 17:00, said spokesperson Andrew Munoz.

The cause of the crash was not immediately known.

"The area where the crash occurred is along the normal route helicopters take," Munoz said, noting that weather conditions were not unusual. The Federal Aviation Administration was investigating.

Officials called off recovery efforts around 19:00 because of the danger of accessing the crash site - about 50km from Las Vegas - in the dark, the Las Vegas Sun newspaper reported.


A park ranger was dispatched to protect the site, not accessible by road, and police and crash investigators planned to return in the morning to recover the victims’ remains and evidence, it said.

The helicopter was a Eurocopter AS350 built in 1989, the paper cited FAA spokesperson Ian Gregor as saying. The aircraft is commonly used for tourist flights in the area, including to the nearby Grand Canyon.

The crash was not the first involving Sundance Helicopters, which advertises itself on its website as "the most experienced and largest helicopter company in Nevada".

In September 2003, a pilot and six passengers died when one of the firm's helicopters crashed in Descent Canyon, about 2.5km east of Grand Canyon West Airport, in Arizona.

The probable cause of that accident was determined to be "the pilot's disregard of safe flying procedures", according to an online National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report.

In August 2009, a Sundance helicopter returning from the Grand Canyon with six passengers was forced to land in the Lake Mead area after an electrical problem, although no one was injured, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.

Sundance Helicopters operates a fleet of 23 choppers including American Eurocopter A-Star AS350 models and ASB EC130 aircraft, according to the company website.

All have "forward facing seats for the best views and most comfortable ride and air conditioning to ensure your luxury helicopter tour is indeed the most memorable and amazing part of your vacation", it said.

The company operates a range of tours from its headquarters near the Las Vegas Strip, ranging from a $110 flight over the Nevada gambling mecca to VIP trips to the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam and elsewhere, costing from $611.

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