A sightseeing tour at the Lake Mead National Recreation area outside of Las Vegas ended in tragedy Wednesday. The helicopter crash claimed the lives of all four passengers as well as the pilot. The crash occurred around 5 p.m. while the helicopter proceeded on its normal course to Hoover Dam. The weather was clear with good visibility and low winds. It is unclear what caused the helicopter to go down. Local agencies and investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board are continuing recovery efforts and are still seeking an explanation for what caused this fatal aviation accident.
Workers at a nearby water treatment plant heard the helicopter crash and saw smoke rising over the crash site shortly thereafter. A search and rescue operation was launched, but it was quickly determined that no one had survived the wreck. Park personnel were sent to investigate and secure the crash site, with a further investigation being delayed until this morning.
The helicopter tour company, Sundance Helicopters, has suffered two other crashes in the last decade. This is the second fatal helicopter crash involving the company. The helicopter itself was an A-Star light-utility helicopter, which is a common choice for touring companies and which has a maximum capacity of 8, including the pilot and co-pilot. Given the moderate conditions, equipment failure and pilot error are the most likely causes of this crash.
Helicopter tours offer people a chance to see the sights from an amazing vantage point. The helicopter tour industry has grown enormously over the past 10 years. With so many businesses offering helicopter tours, it is important for safety officials to maintain a high level of scrutiny to protect the public. If a company operates in a negligent or careless manner, people's lives are placed at risk. Hopefully the investigation will reveal exactly how these people lost their lives. Their families deserve to know if this tragedy could have been prevented.
Source: The Las Vegas Review-Journal, "Five killed in crash of tour helicopter at Lake Mead," by Antonio Planas, 7 December 2011