Grand Canyon helicopter crash: Father pays tribute to sons killed in tour tragedy
Posted On July 29, 2020
A father has spoken of the death of his two sons who were passengers on a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon when it crashed over the weekend, killing three people.
Stuart Hill, 30, and Jason Hill, 32, were visiting the Grand Canyon with friends to celebrate Stuart’s 30th birthday.
Their father, David Hill, this morning described them as "wonderful boys" who were "inseparable".
The brother’s had been saving for the trip with a group of friends for over a year.
The Eurocopter EC130 crashed in unknown circumstances killing brothers Jason and Stuart, as well as Stuart’s girlfriend Becky Dobson, 27, and leaving newlywed couple Jonathan Udall, 32, and Ellie Milward, 29, as well as Jason’s girlfriend Jennifer Barham, 39, and pilot, Scott Booth, 42, fighting for their lives.
David, a chaplain, from Worthing, West Sussex, said: "The boys had been saving for over a year for this trip and they were really looking forward to it.
"They and a group of friends had all flown out to celebrate Stuart’s birthday and it was part of the trip for them to all go on a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon.
"We found out yesterday about the crash and me and their mother, Sandra, are truly devastated.
"The boys were so close, they were born 22 months apart and were like twins. They were just inseparable.
"Jason worked as a solicitor and Stuart worked as a car salesman, they both lived very successful lives, we were so proud of them.
"We are so lucky to have had our boys for 30 years. We are so heartbroken."
The injured, who are said to have been critically hurt, were forced to wait for nine hours to be rescued before being airlifted to a Las Vegas hospital at around 2am.
Rescuers, hampered by gusts of up to 50mph, had to walk to the crash site and use night vision goggles to work their way around.
The parents of Becky Dobson arrived back in the UK this morning after breaking off a one week holiday in Turkey.
Ms Dobson worked as a veterinary receptionist for Vets 4 Pets in Worthing, West Sussex.
Ms Dobson’s father Peter Dobson said: "She was always happy. They just went for a long weekend; a four-night break. They were staying in Vegas, they had been looking forward to it for a long time.
"They [Stuart and Becky] have known each other quite a while, they both live in Worthing," he said.
"They were really happy together, they were always going out and doing things, just enjoyed being with each other. The whole thing is just terrible."
Two of the survivors were newlyweds Jonathan Udell and Ellie Milward. The pair work for Yorkshire Building Society.
The couple went on the trip as part of their honeymoon after getting married last year, according to Jonathan’s father, Philip.
Philip said the family were trying to get a flight over to their son and daughter-in-law.
He said: "We found out yesterday lunchtime that they, Jonathan and Ellie, had been involved in an accident.
"We don’t know much more than what has been reported in the papers and we are just desperately trying to get a flight over at the moment.
"We have spoken to the hospital and they are in a critical condition but they told us they are currently stable.
"The information is currently quite sketchy but we know that other families will be suffering a lot worse than us at the moment. Others were not so lucky."
Jenni Birchmore, a friend and colleague of Ellie Milward, said: "I’m so, so shocked by this because Ellie and I were only talking about her trip to the US a couple of weeks ago and she was looking forward to it so much.
"That is should end so horribly is a tragedy. She’s such a kind and compassionate person. Everyone she works with is praying for her."
Francis Bradley, Hualapai Nation Police chief, told The Telegraph that British consular staff had already arrived to help the victims and their families.
He said rescue teams had worked at the site until 2am on Sunday. The wreckage was found in Quartermaster Canyon, a particularly remote side valley to the Grand Canyon.
“We had extreme difficulty extracting the victims from the crash due to the weather,” he said.
“It was extremely windy, it was dark, the terrain was rough, our first responders had to hike in 20 minutes to get to the location to begin with.”
Mr Bradley added that the helicopter had taken off from Boulder City, Nevada, for the sightseeing tour but that it was too early to speculate on any possible cause for the crash at about 5pm.
National Weather Service meteorologists in Flagstaff and Phoenix said wind conditions were an estimated 10 mph (16 kph) with gusts of 20 mph (32 kph) around the time of the crash.
Quartermaster Canyon locator
A British Foreign Office spokesman said: "We are providing support to the families of six British visitors involved in a helicopter accident at the Grand Canyon on 10 February, and we are in close contact with the US emergency services."
Gasps… then flames, smoke and explosions
A witness said he saw flames and black smoke spewing from the crash site, heard explosions and saw victims who were badly hurt.
Teddy Fujimoto, a Las Vegas photographer who was doing a wedding shoot at the time of the crash, said he suddenly saw people running toward the edge of a gulch.
He said he heard gasps and went to check out the commotion coming from about 600 feet (183 meters) below.
"In the gulch, there was a helicopter, flames, smoke," he said. "It was horrible."
He said that was when two or three small explosions went off in the wreckage and people were not sure what to do.
He said some pilots of helicopters that were also out there decided to try descending into the gulch.
Tour company flies 600,000 passengers a year around Grand Canyon
The tour company released a statement on Sunday, promising full cooperation with crash investigators and offering sympathy.
"It is with extreme sadness we extend our heartfelt sympathy to the families involved in this accident," Papillon Group CEO Brenda Halvorson said. "Our top priority is the care and needs of our passengers and our staff."
The Nevada-based company’s website says it flies roughly 600,000 passengers a year around the Grand Canyon and on other tours.
It notes that it "abides by flight safety rules and regulations that substantially exceed the regulations required by the Federal Aviation Administration".
In August 2001, a Grand Canyon tour helicopter operated by Papillion crashed and burned near Meaview, Arizona. The pilot and five passengers died.
An NTSB report issued in 2004 blamed the pilot’s decision to descend too fast and too close to the scenic Grand Wash Cliffs.