THE helicopter firm behind the Grand Canyon crash has been at the centre of a dozen aviation probes, it has been claimed.
Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters, operated from Boulder City, Nevada, has had at least three other fatal crashes in the last 20 years.
That includes a 2001 disaster near the Canyon when a tour pilot lost control of the chopper, killing himself and five others.
A National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report issued in 2004 blamed the pilot’s decision to descend too fast and too close to the scenic Grand Wash Cliffs.
The Federal Aviation Administration has barred flights from dipping below the Canyon rim and mandated a 500-foot buffer zone between aircraft and any obstacles.
Gary Robb, a US helicopter litigation lawyer, said he believed that Papillon had been involved in about a dozen investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board.
An ever-growing demand for flights around the 277-mile Grand Canyon natural wonder has led it to be dubbed “helicopter alley” and experts say regulations do not go far enough.
Mr Robb said: “Everybody wants to see the same thing. It is a recipe for disaster.”
In relation to the crash which killed three Brits on Saturday, he added: “It’s too early to speculate, but early indications suggest that perhaps heavy gusts could have been a factor that drove the aircraft to strike a wall of the canyon.
“The other possibility is some sort of in-flight mechanical issue, including an engine problem or main rotor blade fracture or defect. You also cannot rule out human error.”
But tragedy struck when their Eurocopter crashed on the Hualapai Nation reservation, near the Canyon’s West Rim, at 5.20pm local time (1.30am GMT) on Saturday.
Car salesman Stuart Hill, 30, his girlfriend Becky Dobson, 27, and brother Jason Hill, 32, all died when the tail of the chopper clipped a cliff face – before plummeting 600ft to the ground in a fireball.
Their three Brit pals Jennifer Barham, 39, and honeymooning couple Ellie Milward, 29, and Jonathan Udall, 32, were all still fighting for their lives in hospital last night.
Papillon has 600 employees and a fleet of 48 helicopters.
The company’s website says it flies roughly 600,000 passengers a year around the Grand Canyon and on other tours.
Papillon Group CEO Brenda Halvorson said yesterday: “It is with extreme sadness we extend our heartfelt sympathy to the families involved in this accident.
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“Our top priority is the care and needs of our passengers and our staff.”
Britain’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch confirmed it was assisting US authorities with the case last night.
A spokesman said the AAIB was acting as a liaison between victims’ families in the UK and American officials.