NTSB Press Release

National Transportation Safety Board
Office of Public Affairs


UPDATE ON NTSB INVESTIGATION INTO CRASH OF A SUNDANCE HELICOPTER IN THE GRAND CANYON

November 19, 2003

The National Transportation Safety Board today released the following update on its investigation of the September 20, 2003, air tour accident at Grand Canyon, Arizona, involving an Aerospatiale AS350BA helicopter operated by Sundance Helicopters, Inc., which resulted in the deaths of all seven people on board.

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On September 20, 2003, an Aerospatiale AS350BA (N270SH) collided with a canyon wall during a descent near the Grand Canyon West Airport, Arizona. The helicopter was destroyed as a result of the collision and a post impact fire. The helicopter was operated by Sundance Helicopters, Inc., which is based in Las Vegas, Nevada. The National Transportation Safety Board continues to investigate the crash, which killed the pilot and all six passengers on board during a commercial flight conducted under 14 CFR Part 135. A preliminary factual report is available on the Safety Board's web site, www.ntsb.gov.

The on-scene examination of the accident site revealed evidence of a main rotor blade strike in the near vertical face of a canyon wall. The main wreckage was located about 200 yards farther down the canyon.

An Airworthiness Group was formed and conducted a detailed reconstruction and examination of all of the recoverable airframe and engine wreckage at a facility in Phoenix, Arizona. The examination of the wreckage, including the engine, did not reveal any evidence of a preimpact mechanical malfunction. Several hydraulic flight control actuators, a hydraulic system pump, and a cockpit annunciator panel have been extracted from the wreckage for additional metallurgical examination at the Safety Board's Materials Laboratory in Washington, DC and other locations.

The Airworthiness Group is also researching possible flight control malfunction scenarios, and they are working closely with operations and aircraft performance specialists in an attempt to define the flight path and aerodynamic profile of the accident flight. This portion of the investigation has been hampered by the lack of any flight recorder on board the helicopter. (Flight recorders are currently not required to be installed on these types of aircraft.) An Operations Group was formed to investigate the operational aspects of the flight. The Group has conducted interviews with several officials of Sundance Helicopters, inspectors with the Federal Aviation Administration, and pilots of other air tour helicopter operators. The Group is continuing to obtain evidence related to the background and experience level of the pilot, the adequacy of surveillance by the FAA, and the safety of air tour operations conducted outside of the Special Federal Air Regulations (SFAR) airspace of the Grand Canyon.

Safety Board investigators are also continuing to interview passengers who flew with Sundance Helicopters on the day of the accident. So far, seven passengers have been located and interviewed. Four of these passengers flew with the accident pilot on the flight prior to the accident flight, and the others flew with another Sundance pilot the day of the accident. Additionally, digital still photographs from the accident flight and previous flights have been obtained. The Safety Board is continuing to examine flight manifest and passenger records in an attempt to obtain more witness names and addresses for additional passenger observations and potential videos of previous flights.

NTSB Media Contact:
Terry N. Williams
202-314-6100
williat@ntsb.gov

 

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The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent federal agency charged with determining the probable cause
of transportation accidents, promoting transportation safety, and assisting victims of transportation accidents and their families.