Five people, including a pilot, died after a Sundance helicopter crashed Wednesday afternoon during a tour of Las Vegas and the Hoover Dam.
According to National Park Service spokesman Andrew Munoz, the helicopter crashed into the River Mountains surrounding Lake Mead just before 5:00 p.m.
A security guard from the national recreation area heard the crash and reported seeing smoke about four miles west of the lake’s edge.
Andrew Munoz told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he was “saddened” that a search-and-rescue mission turned into a “recovery investigation”.
He added that it was too early to release the names of the victims.
The crash site about 30 miles from the Las Vegas Strip is not accessible by road.
FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said several witnesses reported smoke and what appeared to be wreckage in the area where police were investigating.
Ian Gregor said police were having troubling reaching the crash site because it’s in a ravine.
The tour helicopter was an Aerospatiale AS350, which can hold up to six passengers and are often used for air tours.
A spokesman for Sundance Helicopters, who declined to give his name, said the tour was not full. He declined to answer further questions.
It’s unclear what may have triggered the crash.
The weather was mostly clear near Lake Mead yesterday, with a low temperature around 29 and winds around 5 mph.
Sundance Helicopters is no stranger to fatal accidents.
Seven people were killed in September 2003 when a helicopter hit a wall near the Grand Canyon.
The National Transportation Safety Board’s report into that accident determined that: “The probable cause of this accident was the pilot’s disregard of safe flying procedures and misjudgment of the helicopter’s proximity to terrain, which resulted in an in-flight collision with a canyon wall.
“Contributing to the accident was the failure of Sundance Helicopters and the Federal Aviation Administration to provide adequate surveillance of Sundance’s air tour operations in Descent Canyon.”
There was video evidence to support passenger complaints that the pilot was prone to veering close to canyon walls, and performing risky maneuvers.
Sundance Helicopters received two complaints about the pilot in 2001 and though it initially said it would suspend the pilot, the ban was never enforced.
One tourist who recently took a similar tour said that his pilot prompted him to pay a tip in exchange for a more exciting flight.
The tourist said: “The pilot told us that he was so low-paid that all tips were gratefully received, and that in exchange for the tip he would perform some low-level flying.
“He flew close to the ground and close to the walls, on the edge of things, for more excitement.
‘I didn’t feel I was in danger at the time but I did think he was taking more risks than he needed to.”
Sundance Helicopters’ website promotes only one local tour that flies over Lake Mead.
The 30-minute “Twilight City Tour” spans downtown Las Vegas, the Hoover Dam and the Las Vegas Strip.
Packages start at $210 per person.
“Fly in a state of the art luxury air-conditioned 6 passenger jet helicopter,” Sundance Helicopters says on its website.
A September 2003 crash of a Sundance Helicopters flight killed its pilot and six passengers in Arizona.
Unsafe flying procedures and misjudgment were cited as the probable cause of that crash.