A helicopter sightseeing tour over Hoover Dam ended in a deadly crash late Wednesday afternoon, killing all five people aboard. Three of those on board have been identified as of this writing: 31-year-old Landon Nield who was the pilot, and Delwin and Tamara Chapman, a couple from Kansas.
The crash occurred around 5:00 p.m. on December 7, 2011 approximately 12 miles from Las Vegas, with wreckage coming to rest in a canyon roughly 4.5 miles west of Southern Nevada Water Authority in Lake Mead Recreational Park.
According to tour operator Sundance Helicopters, the tour was scheduled to travel from the airport to Hoover Dam and then return to the airport, a roughly 30-minute flight. The pilot was transporting four passengers when the helicopter went down. On Thursday, Federal transportation investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) hiked down into the crash site, which is located at the bottom of a 150-foot, tight canyon. They found parts strewn on the landscape, including both tail rotors, all three main rotor blades, though investigators had not determined if a flight data recorder, also known as a black box, was on board, 8 News Now reports.
According to the 8 News Now news story, Dr. Mark Rosenkind of the NTSB revealed that fire had consumed most of the helicopter, and what remained was mostly fragmented. The wreckage that had been discovered is in a very confined area near the spot where impact first occurred.
Investigators will examine what led up to moment when the GPS signal stopped transmitting from the helicopter. They will also examine the helicopter’s history to determine what went wrong on what should have been a routine trip. Four factors will comprise the examination: the operation and maintenance of the helicopter, weather conditions at the time of the crash, and whether human error played a part.
Rosenkind said the investigators are working to understand the likely cause of the crash and make recommendations to improve safety so a similar accident doesn’t happen in the future. He expressed deepest condolences to the family and friends of the people who lost their lives.
Investigators will interview two witnesses on Friday. Aviation officials from France are also present in Las Vegas to help with technical advice, as the make of helicopter that crashed was a Eurocopter Aerospecial 350.
Another sightseeing helicopter that was operated by Sundance Helicopters crashed in 2003. Seven people on board died. In that crash, investigators determined the cause was pilot error.
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