Grand Canyon deaths - Worthing families support coroner’s call for further regulations to protect tourists

The families of five West Sussex tourists, who died in a helicopter crash at the Grand Canyon, have welcomed the recommendations made by a coroner, which they hope will prevent future deaths.

An inquest on Wednesday (November 17) heard that the pilot of the helicopter failed a routine safety check before the fatal flight in February 2018.

Two brothers and one of their girlfriends from Worthing and a honeymoon couple from Findon died after turbulence and gusting winds pushed their chopper into a fatal tailspin.

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They were named as Stuart and Jason Hill, aged 30 and 32, Rebecca Dobson, 27, and Eleanor and Jonathan Udall, aged 29 and 31, who lived together in Findon. Click here to read heartfelt family tributes 

Brothers Stuart Hill, 30, left, and Jason Hill, 31 were among those killed in the crash

Sarah Stewart, partner in Stewarts aviation department and the lawyer representing some of the families, said: “Today is about getting answers for the families so they can move on with their lives without their loved ones. Our families would like to thank the senior coroner for the thoroughness of her investigation and for the answers this has given them.

“They welcome her verdict and her recommendations.

“The fuel tank issues were only one piece in the jigsaw of how the helicopter came to crash but it is clear from the evidence heard by the coroner that further regulation is needed to protect the safety of British passengers and members of the public.

“Whilst we cannot turn the clock back, through the coroner’s recommendations we hope that we can implement change to prevent future deaths from occurring and to ensure that such a tragedy is not repeated.”

Funeral of brothers Stuart and Jason Hill who died in a helicopter crash at the grand canyon. Pic Steve Robards SR1807339 SUS-180322-174332001

The group were on a ‘trip of a lifetime’, coroner Penelope Schofield said.

She said the pilot lost control in a violent gust of wind and concluded that all five died as a result of a tragic accident.

However, the court in Horsham heard Scott Booth failed his annual pilot check before the crash on February 10, 2018.

Mark Jarvis from the Air Accident Investigation Brach said the check was to test if Scott Booth could land a helicopter with no engine power — similar to a glide landing in an aeroplane.

Grand Canyon helicopter crash victim Rebecca 'Beccy' Dobson was a vet assistant from Worthing. SUS-211118-211355001

The test revealed he struggled to deal with bad weather conditions.

Mr Booth was allowed to retake days later and passed.

Nobody in the helicopter could be moved for more than six hours

The coroner instructed the Civil Aviation Authority to consider making crash resistant fuel safety systems mandatory on all helicopters in UK airspace.

Even though the system would not have saved the five holidaymakers, the coroner said it was a concern there are aircraft flying over the UK which do not have the safety feature fitted.

They were celebrating Stuart Hill’s birthday and the Udall’s marriage three months before.

The British tourists boarded the helicopter earlier in the day at Boulder City near Las Vegas.

The French designed and built chopper was engulfed in flames moments after hitting the ground.

Eye-witnesses scrambled down the canyon for 45 minutes to reach the crash site.

The inquest heard batteries in the tour operator sat phones were flat and their staff did not know how to use them.

Nobody in the helicopter could be moved for more than six hours as emergency services struggled to reach them.

Mr Jarvis said the American National Transport Safety Board identified loss of tail rotor effectiveness as a major cause of the crash.

Weather reports identified the possibility of turbulence in the canyon.

The inquest heard Mr Booth was piloting his third flight of the day and there were no mechanical issues with the helicopter.

He was aiming to set the chopper down on a dirt landing site inside the Grand Canyon.

Asked by coroner Penelope Schofield if the crash could have been caused by pilot error, Mr Jarvis said: “I can’t make a decision either way, ma’am.”

Other pilots who landed earlier in the day warned of unpredictable tail winds.

Eye-witnesses reported seeing the chopper twice turning 360 degrees before plunging to the ground.

Examinations of the rotors showed they clipped the canyon wall as the chopper plummeted.

Mr Booth, who lost both legs in the crash, was not represented at the inquest.

Members of the Royal Australian Air Force stationed in Las Vegas who were also in the canyon on a helicopter tour.

Avionics Technician Joel Scott Trembath, 28, of the RAAF told investigators he saw two women emerge from the flaming wreckage, dazed, burned, bleeding and in shock.

Emergency services took hours to get survivors to hospital.

The Airbus EC130 B4 crashed just before sunset in a section of the Grand Canyon popular with air tours.

Another passenger, Jennifer Barham, suffered a spinal fracture and severe burns.

The coroner told the families it had been a long journey to get to the inquest.

She said: “Our sincere condolences for the tragic loss of such young and gifted people in such tragic circumstances.

“Our hearts go out to you.”

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