Inquest into Brits killed in Grand Canyon helicopter crash

Five British friends – including newlyweds on honeymoon – killed in horror helicopter crash in Grand Canyon may have survived if craft had latest fuel safety system, inquest hears

  • Five holidaymakers from Worthing, West Sussex were killed in the horror crash
  • The Airbus EC130B4 plummeted 600ft into the famous US landmark in February 
  • Hearing told they may have survived if aircraft had the latest fuel safety system

Five holidaymakers killed in a Grand Canyon helicopter crash may have survived if the aircraft had been fitted with the the latest fuel safety system, an inquest heard today. 

The Airbus EC130B4 plummeted 600ft into the famous US landmark after the pilot lost control in stormy weather before it burst into a fireball on the ground.

Honeymooners Jonathan Udall, 31, of Southampton and his new wife Eleanor, 29, died along with Becky Dobson, 26, her boyfriend Stuart Hill, 29, and his brother Jason Hill, 31, all from Worthing, West Sussex, when the helicopter crashed in Arizona.

The five friends has been on a trip of a lifetime to Las Vegas and were celebrating Stuart’s birthday when they booked the ride. The newlyweds died from their injuries days apart later that month at the University Medical Centre, Clark, Las Vegas.

Ellie Milward and her husband Jonathan Udall (pictured left on their wedding day) were killed with their friends Becky Dobson and Stuart Hill (right)

Newlyweds Jon Udall and Eleanor were celebrating their honeymoon when they were killed

Jason Hills’ girlfriend Jennifer Dorricott, 39, survived but suffered life-changing injuries. Pilot Scott Booth also lived but had to undergo a double leg amputation.

 A pre-inquest review today heard the tragic accident could have been ‘survivable’ had the helicopter been fitted with a crash resistant fuel system.  

James Healy-Pratt, who is representing four families, told West Sussex Coroner’s Court: ‘This accident was survivable. 

‘This accident was preventable and further and future innocent lives are at risk without adequate crash resistant fuel systems.’ 

The crash resistant fuel systems give greater protection to passengers and ensure the fuel tanks are more robust and less likely to rupture. 

The two newlyweds were killed when the helicopter crashed in 50mph winds, plummeting 600ft to the ground

Stuart Hill (left) and his brother Jason Hill (right) who both died in a Grand Canyon helicopter crash

Presently there are no regulatory guidelines which it mandatory for manufacturers to fit these systems. 

But Mr Healy-Pratt said the safety of helicopters had been highlighted recently, most notably with the Leicester City FC crash in which billionaire owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, two members of his staff, the pilot and a passenger were killed near the football ground when the aircraft spiralled out of control and crashed in a fireball in October. 

He said a recent news article in the US had shone a light on a problem that had been known by the helicopter industry for decades. 

He said: ‘A helicopter can crash but if its fuel system is not robust enough people will burn to death and that is what has happened over the past 20 years.’ 

A woman is pictured scrambling from the wreckage after the crash, left. Jennifer Dorricott, right, survived the crash but has been left with life changing injuries

Mr Healy-Pratt said there had not been enough regulatory action to ensure all helicopters are manufactured or retrofitted with the safe systems and not enough had been done to warn civilians of the dangers. 

‘This is another example of a tragic accident which led to innocent passengers losing their lives in an accident that was survivable.’ 

He said the families had huge concerns that there were civilian helicopters in UK today which were not fitted with crash resistant fuel systems which cost around £45,000 to fit to a £2million helicopter.

‘What price do you put on a human life?’ he asked outside the court. 

Jonathan Udall’s parents, Philip and Marlene Udall, have already launched a lawsuit saying their son could have survived and would not have sustained ‘severe and catastrophic burns’ if the Airbus EC130 B4 had been fitted with such a system. 

The court was told that three Australian airmen witnessed the shocking accident alongside another member of the public who was attending a wedding function in the Grand Canyon (pictured)

After the crash, Papillon, the operator, announced it would fit 40 of the crash-resistant tanks to its fleet. 

The parents of all five people killed in February attended the pre-inquest review at Crawley Coroner’s Court. 

The court was told that three Australian airmen witnessed the shocking accident alongside another member of the public who was attending a wedding function in the Grand Canyon area. 

Coroner Penelope Schofield said that if there were safety fears surrounding aircraft then manufacturer’s Airbus should be present at the inquest when it reconvenes. 

She said other interested parties including the Civil Aviation Authority may also be asked to attend. 

Other interested parties who may attend the inquest are Papillon – the operators of the tour – and Xebec, the owners of the helicopter. 

There will be a second pre-inquest review on March 6.      

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