3 dead, 4 injured in fiery Grand Canyon helicopter crash

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The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River runs for 20 miles at depths of up to more than 1,000 feet deep in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, U.S. on June 24, 2011. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart/File Photo

Three people were killed while four were critically injured after a sightseeing helicopter crashed into a section the Grand Canyon Saturday evening.

The fatal incident occurred at 5:20 p.m. on the land of Hualapai Nation near Quartermaster Canyon. The EC-130 helicopter was carrying a pilot and six passengers from the United Kingdom on a tour that originated in Boulder City, Nevada.

After a rescue effort that stretched from Saturday evening into the early hours of Sunday morning, the four survivors of the crash were taken to University Medical Center in Las Vegas as Level 1 trauma patients with life-threatening injuries.

Initially, first responders had difficulty reaching the survivors due to windy, dark, and rugged conditions in the area. Rescuers were able to get to the survivors after getting assistance from military aircraft from the Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas.

After rescuing the survivors, crews continued working at the crash site in order to retrieve the bodies of the three victims, although harsh weather conditions were impede their efforts.

The aircraft sustained substantial damage as a result of the crash. In photos and videos taken by witnesses, the wreckage of the helicopter was seen engulfed in flames at the bottom of a steep, rocky canyon as black smoke billowed from it. Investigators are still determining the circumstances that caused the crash.

According to Hualapai Nation Police Chief Francis Bradley, a storm was rolling into the area around the time of the crash. He noted that the weather conditions were not normal, but there were no flight restrictions imposed.

Witness Lionel Douglass, who was attending a wedding about 1,000 yards away, said he saw the helicopter plummet from the sky after going around in two complete circles, as if the pilot was looking for a place to land the aircraft.

“It fell down between the mountains, the tail broke in half, it hit the bottom and it was the biggest explosion you ever heard and then flames like you never seen before,” said Dauglass.