Official says tour helicopter scraped rocks before crash
LAS VEGAS (AP) – A Grand Canyon tour helicopter scraped a rock outcropping before crashing into a hillside, killing the pilot and five passengers, a sheriff’s official said.
The sole survivor of the Friday crash, a 25-year-old mother of two, remained in critical condition Tuesday at a Las Vegas hospital with burns over 80 percent of her body.
Steve Johnson, Mohave County, Ariz., sheriff’s spokesman, said Tuesday that a sheriff’s detective found that the helicopter struck hillside boulders, traveled a short distance downhill and hit the ground.
”There was evidence of scraping on the rocks just above the crash site itself,” Johnson said. ”It indicates to us the aircraft was following the slope of that hill down, then there was the scrape and farther down there was the helicopter itself.”
Sheriff’s investigators don’t know what caused the helicopter to crash into the rocks, Johnson said.
National Transportation Safety Board investigators said it was premature to make any comment about the significance of the marks.
”We are still in the information gathering portion of the investigation,” said Lauren Peduzzi, NTSB spokeswoman. ”As part of the more detailed and ongoing investigation we will look at what those marks mean.”
Jerry Snyder, FAA spokesman in Los Angeles, deferred comment to the NTSB about the cause of the crash near Meadview, Ariz.
Johnson said the detective – an experienced aircraft and vehicle crash investigator – noted the scraped rocks were a few yards below the crest of a rugged cliff. Johnson said most of the damage to the aircraft was from fire, not the result of impact.
An autopsy Monday revealed that the pilot, Kevin Innocenti, 27, of Henderson, Nev., burned to death, the sheriff’s spokesman s aid.
Between 75-100 family members, Papillon employees and others from the air tour industry attended a memorial service Tuesday at the Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopter company’s hangar in Las Vegas. The informal ceremony included remarks from Innocenti’s father, Franco Innocenti, and Papillon’s owner, Brenda Halvorson.
Company officials said family members planned to visit the crash scene by helicopter afterward.
In New York, the dead – David Daskal, Shayie Lichtenstein, Avi and Barbara Wajsbaum and Aryeh Zvi Fastag – were mourned Monday by several hundred people during Orthodox Jewish ceremonies in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Borough Park.
The Maricopa County medical examiner’s office in Phoenix released the cause of deaths Tuesday. Daskal and the Wajsbaums died from blunt trauma and burns, while Fastag burned to death. Lichtenstein died from head injuries.
In Las Vegas, University Medical Center doctors were closely watching Chana Daskal, David’s widow. She was reported to be heavily sedated while being monitored for swelling and infection from her burns.
Friday’s crash was in unregulated airspace outside the Grand Canyon’s special flight rules area, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman said.
The crash site by Grand Wash Cliffs, a scenic area between Grand Canyon National Park and the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, is subject to noise, altitude and other federal restrictions that have been focus of air tour industry criticism in recent years.
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