The helicopter crash that killed three Britons in the Grand Canyon took place in a tribal area where air tours are not as highly regulated as those inside the national park, it has emerged.
Jason Hill, 32, his brother Stuart, 30, and Stuart’s girlfriend Becky Dobson, 27, died when the aircraft came down on Saturday.
Jason’s girlfriend Jennifer Barham, 39, survived with friends Ellie Milward, 29, and her husband Jonathan Udall, 32, and pilot Scott Booth, 42. All were in hospital where investigators plan to interview them.
The six friends had booked a tour on the Hualapai reservation as part of a trip celebrating Stuart Hill’s 30th birthday. The Mercedes salesman and his elder brother, a solicitor, had spent a year saving for the trip, their family said.
Unlike the national park, air tours on the Hualapai reservation are not subject to federal regulations that restrict routes, impose curfews and cap the amount of flights over the Grand Canyon each year.
The Federal Aviation Administration granted the Hualapai Tribe an exemption nearly two decades ago after finding that the regulations would harm the tribe’s economy where tourism is a major driver.
Most of the flights over the reservation originate from Las Vegas, and air tour operators aggressively market them. The pilots can fly between canyon walls and land at the bottom next to the Colorado River on the reservation, which isn’t allowed at the park other than for emergency operations.
The helicopter crashed in rugged terrain in an area known as Quartermaster Canyon, according to Hualapai Nation police chief Francis Bradley.
One witnessed described watching a woman stagger from the wreckage before collapsing and screaming out the name Jason.
British consular officials are understood to be helping the survivors and the families.
The Foreign Office said: “We are providing support to the families of six British visitors involved in a helicopter accident at the Grand Canyon on February 10 and we are in close contact with the US emergency services.”