Four survivors of a deadly helicopter crash Saturday evening in the Grand Canyon have been rescued during an operation that stretched into the early hours of Sunday morning, according to Police Chief Francis E. Bradley Sr. of the Hualapai reservation.
The helicopter was operated by Papillon Airways, an aerial sightseeing company that gives tours of the Grand Canyon and other locations, Bradley said.
Three people died when the EC-130 went down at 5:20 p.m. (7:20 p.m. ET) Saturday near Quartermaster Canyon, within the Grand Canyon on the Hualapai Nation.
A pilot and six passengers were on board, Bradley said.
First responders had difficulty reaching the four survivors due to windy, dark and rugged conditions, Bradley said.
Rescuers got help from military aircraft from Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas and were eventually able to fly all four of the injured to the University Medical Center in Las Vegas by Sunday morning, Bradley said.
Crews will work Sunday to retrieve the bodies of those who died in the crash, Bradley said, but weather conditions were hampering efforts.
Photos of the crash scene showed flames and dark smoke rising from rocky terrain.
Teddy Fujimoto told KSNV he was in the area taking photographs when he witnessed the aftermath of the crash.
“I saw these two ladies run out of it and then an explosion. One of the survivors… looked all bloody. Her clothes probably were burnt off,” Fujimoto told KSNV. “The ladies were screaming… It was just horrible.”
FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer earlier said the aircraft sustained considerable damage in the crash.
The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate, Kenitzer said.
Papillon Airways describes itself on its website as “the world’s largest aerial sightseeing company” and adds it provides “the only way to tour the Grand Canyon.”
The company said it flies roughly 600,000 passengers a year on Grand Canyon and other tours. It also notes it “abides by flight safety rules and regulations that substantially exceed the regulations required by the Federal Aviation Administration.”
Papillon didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
NTSB records show a helicopter operated by Papillon was involved in a deadly crash on August 10, 2001 near Meadview, Arizona.
The pilot and five passengers were killed; one passenger survived, NTSB report shows.
NTSB investigators determined the probable cause of the 2001 crash was pilot error.