Pilot of helicopter that crashed in the Grand Canyon had FAILED earlier safety check, inquest hears


The pilot of a helicopter which crashed killing a group of British holidaymakers during a sightseeing flight over the Grand Canyon had failed an earlier safety check, an inquest was told.

Jonathan Udall, 31, and his 29-year-old wife Ellie died along with Rebecca Dobson, 26, her boyfriend Stuart Hill, 29, and his brother Jason Hill, 31, when their helicopter crashed and burst into flames.

The group lost their lives after a strong tailwind knocked the Airbus EC130 B4 out of control, causing it to crash shortly before sunset in February 2018.

As it hit the ground hard it exploded in a fireball with all five occupants suffering fatal burn injuries.

Rebecca, Stuart and Jason died in the subsequent blaze while Jonathan and his wife Ellie survived but died of their injuries a fortnight later at the University Medical Centre in Las Vegas.

A sixth friend, 39-year-old Jennifer Dorricott, a solicitor, survived but suffered life-changing injuries in the crash.

Pilot Scott Booth of tour operator Papillon lived but had to undergo a double leg amputation after suffering catastrophic injuries.

The inquest at West Sussex Coroner’s Court today heard Mr Booth was fully-qualified but had failed an earlier check on his landing abilities during turbulent conditions.

Rebecca Dobson, 26, her boyfriend Stuart Hill (both pictured above), 29, who lost their lives after a strong tailwind knocked the Airbus EC130 B4 out of control, causing it to crash

Rebecca Dobson, 26, her boyfriend Stuart Hill (both pictured above), 29, who lost their lives after a strong tailwind knocked the Airbus EC130 B4 out of control, causing it to crash

Jonathan Udall, 31, and his 29-year-old wife Ellie (both pictured) who died of their injuries a fortnight later at the University Medical Centre Hospital in Las Vegas

Jonathan Udall, 31, and his 29-year-old wife Ellie (both pictured) who died of their injuries a fortnight later at the University Medical Centre Hospital in Las Vegas

‘The loss cannot be put into words’: Families’ statements in full

The inquest also heard the families read out their statements.

Becky Dobson’s mother, Jane, said: ‘Our Becky, we miss you so much. You were such an amazing daughter, sister and an incredible auntie. You had so many friends who loved everything about you.

‘Your raging smile could light up any room. Your lovely funny ways would always make us laugh. Our lives will never be the same but Becky you will always stay in our hearts forever.’

Sandra Hill, mother of the two sons who died, said: ‘We represent every parent’s nightmare, to cease to be a mum and dad and to have no-one to care for. We were so blessed with Jason and Stuart. They were very active from the start and never stopped a moment they were awake.

‘We did lots of things together. Each took a very different path as Jason went on to a career in law. Stuart was more practical and went over to New Zealand. He made friends wherever he went. Some of them we’re still in touch with today.

‘What’s it like now they’re gone? Well, after nearly four years, we still expect them to turn up. I still can’t go into a card shop, as if I see a card with the word ‘son’ written on it I break down. I haven’t been able to put up a Christmas tree since their deaths.’

Reverend David Hill, father of the two brothers, quoted a line from the Fast and Furious movie series in his tribute. He said: ‘No matter where you are, whether it’s a quarter-mile away or halfway across the world, you’ll always be with me. And you’ll always be my brother.’

Speaking on behalf of Ellie’s parents, Terry and Maggie Milward, Sarah Stuart read their statement to the coroner, saying ‘The loss to our family cannot be put into words.’

Philip and Marlene Udall’s statement said: ‘John was only 31 when tragedy struck on that fateful day in 2018. We had recently celebrated the wedding, a truly momentous occasion when in 2018 our world came crashing down around us and we were left devastated at the loss of our son.

‘Jonathan was a kind and caring person. A young man we are so proud of the man he became. We held on to the memories we have of watching him grow into that young man. 

‘We will never again get to see his face, hug him, or to see him laugh. Thirty-one years of Jonathan was simply not enough.’

Mark Jarvis of the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) told the inquest hearing the annual check is designed to test the pilot’s ability.

But he said Mr Booth had failed his first test on his ability to handle a helicopter in gusty wind conditions, manoeuvre and deal with a loss of power.

Mr Booth retook the check ‘days later’ and passed and was fully qualified to fly the flight on February 10 2018.

An investigation was launched by the US National Transport Safety Board (NTSB) who concluded the accident happened when the pilot lost control of the aircraft in turbulent, high winds.

Mr Jarvis said the report showed the helicopter was mechanically sound but was not fitted with a crash resistant fuel system. 

Three Australian airmen witnessed the accident alongside another passerby who was attending a wedding function in the Grand Canyon area, the inquest heard.

They scrambled over the rocky terrain to help provide first aid to those who managed to free themselves from the wreckage.

The coroner heard a statement from Joel Trembath, an avionics technician, who said: ‘I noticed Jon and Ellie were staring into the distance and in shock. 

‘They were sitting next to each other on a rock and at that time they were both able to talk unhindered.’

He added: ‘I observed Sgt Daniel Johnson and LAC Mitchell Wood applying first aid to three survivors, Jennifer, and a male I later identified as Jon and a female I later identified as Ellie.

‘At that stage, the helicopter was still on fire and fiercely burning. A young-looking male Papillon pilot was yelling at us to turn around and go back. I identified myself as Australian Air Force and said we had first aid kits. However, the Papillon pilot replied that he didn’t care and told us to turn around.

‘We ignored him and continued down to deliver first aid kits and then we ran back up to the landing for water. Once we got back to the crash site with water, I started applying first aid to Jennifer. She was yelling her partner’s name, Jason, and I attempted to calm her down.

‘The first aid I applied included some bandaging, washing of burns and and chemicals with water, and application of antiseptic. Jennifer was very animate whilst I was applying this first aid and she was understandably inconsolable.’ 

The inquest also heard the families read out their statements.

Becky Dobson’s mother, Jane, said: ‘Our Becky, we miss you so much. You were such an amazing daughter, sister and an incredible auntie. You had so many friends who loved everything about you.

‘Your raging smile could light up any room. Your lovely funny ways would always make us laugh. Our lives will never be the same but Becky you will always stay in our hearts forever.’

Sandra Hill, mother of the two sons who died, said: ‘We represent every parent’s nightmare, to cease to be a mum and dad and to have no-one to care for. We were so blessed with Jason and Stuart. They were very active from the start and never stopped a moment they were awake. 

Sandra Hill, mother of the two sons (pictured above) who died, said: 'We represent every parent's nightmare, to cease to be a mum and dad and to have no-one to care for. We were so blessed with Jason and Stuart'

Sandra Hill, mother of the two sons (pictured above) who died, said: ‘We represent every parent’s nightmare, to cease to be a mum and dad and to have no-one to care for. We were so blessed with Jason and Stuart’

Becky Dobson's mother, Jane, said: 'Our Becky, we miss you so much. You were such an amazing daughter, sister and an incredible auntie' (Becky pictured)

Becky Dobson’s mother, Jane, said: ‘Our Becky, we miss you so much. You were such an amazing daughter, sister and an incredible auntie’ (Becky pictured)

‘We did lots of things together. Each took a very different path as Jason went on to a career in law. Stuart was more practical and went over to New Zealand. He made friends wherever he went. Some of them we’re still in touch with today. 

‘What’s it like now they’re gone? Well, after nearly four years, we still expect them to turn up. I still can’t go into a card shop, as if I see a card with the word ‘son’ written on it I break down. 

‘I haven’t been able to put up a Christmas tree since their deaths.’

Reverend David Hill, father of the two brothers, quoted a line from the Fast and Furious movie series in his tribute, explaining the two brother’s relationship. 

He said: ‘No matter where you are, whether it’s a quarter-mile away or halfway across the world, you’ll always be with me. And you’ll always be my brother.’

Reverend David Hill (pictured above), father of the two brothers, quoted a line from the Fast and Furious movie series in his tribute, explaining the two brother's relationship

Reverend David Hill (pictured above), father of the two brothers, quoted a line from the Fast and Furious movie series in his tribute, explaining the two brother’s relationship

Speaking on behalf of Ellie’s parents, Terry and Maggie Milward, Sarah Stuart read their statement to the coroner, saying: ‘The loss to our family cannot be put into words.’

Philip and Marlene Udall’s statement said: ‘John was only 31 when tragedy struck on that fateful day in 2018. 

‘We had recently celebrated the wedding, a truly momentous occasion when in 2018 our world came crashing down around us and we were left devastated at the loss of our son.

‘Jonathan was a kind and caring person. A young man we are so proud of the man he became. We held on to the memories we have of watching him grow into that young man. We will never again get to see his face, hug him, or to see him laugh. Thirty-one years of Johnathan was simply not enough.’

Emergency crews arrived at the scene 20 minutes after the crash, due to the difficulty of getting around the mile-deep canyon. 

A post-mortem examination report concluded that Stuart, Becky and Jason all died from multiple injuries as a result of thermal injury and smoke inhalation. 

Jonathan and Ellie both died in Universal Medical Centre Hospital, Los Angeles, due to complications from thermal injuries.  

The inquest continues but was expected to conclude this afternoon.



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Written by Bourbiza Mohamed

A technology enthusiast and a passionate writer in the field of information technology, cyber security, and blockchain

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