Saturday 19 January 2019

Newlywed groom's parents sue over fatal Grand canyon helicopter crash

Emergency personnel arrive at the scene of a deadly tour helicopter crash along the jagged rocks of the Grand Canyon
(Teddy Fujimoto via AP, File)
Emergency personnel arrive at the scene of a deadly tour helicopter crash along the jagged rocks of the Grand Canyon (Teddy Fujimoto via AP, File)

Sam Blewett

The parents of a newlywed groom who was among five Britons to die a helicopter crash in the Grand Canyon are suing the tour operator in a wrongful death lawsuit.

Jonathan Udall, who died in hospital days before his wife Ellie Milward, could have survived if Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters and manufacturer Airbus Helicopters had not negligently failed to install a crash-resistant fuel tank, according to the lawsuit filed on Friday.

The honeymooning couple died in hospital as a result of burns sustained in the February 10 crash that killed their friends Becky Dobson, her boyfriend Stuart Hill and his brother Jason Hill.

Lawyers for Philip and Marlene Udall, of Southampton, claim in the lawsuit filed in Nevada that their 31-year-old son would not have sustained "severe and catastrophic" burns if the Airbus EC130 B4 had been fitted the fuel system.

After the lawsuit was filed, lawyer Gary Robb said: "Mr and Mrs Udall deeply grieve for the loss of their son but their primary motivation now is to prevent anyone else from having to suffer the deadly burn injuries as their son did.

"If this helicopter had been properly equipped with a crash-resistant fuel system, it would have allowed this young man to walk away injury-free."

They are also suing pilot Scott Booth, who was hospitalised in a critical condition, accusing him of negligence for crashing.

Also named in the lawsuit are Papillon directors Brenda Halvorson and Elling Halvorson, president Geoff Edlund and chief operating officer John Becker. The family allege they failed to ensure the helicopter was in a "safe and defect free" condition.

They also accuse mechanic Matthew Hecker and its inspector Daniel Friedman of negligence over the state of the helicopter, in particular its tail rotor.

Ms Halvorson criticised the lawsuit as "extremely premature and misguided" for coming before the completion of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation, which is not expected for at least a year.

"We are working intimately with the NTSB and providing all technical and factual information as requested," she added.

"Our hearts are broken as we continue to grieve with the families affected by this tragedy and do everything we can to support them."

A coroner ruled Mr Udall and Ms Milward, 29, from Worthing, West Sussex, died of "complications of thermal injury".

ACCIDENT Grand.jpg
Handout photo dated circa 2005 issued by Sean Reeves of Stuart Hill, who has been named as one of the victims of a Grand Canyon helicopter crash Photo: Sean Reeves/Handout/PA Wire

Ms Dobson, 27, Stuart Hill, 30, and Jason Hill, 32, all from Worthing, were said to have died at the scene of "multiple injuries".

Their friend, Jennifer Barham, 39, was also rescued and airlifted to Las Vegas's University Medical Centre.

The Udalls are asking for in excess of 195,000 dollars (£141,000) in damages, as well as punitive damages and a jury trial.

The lawsuit comes after it was announced Papillon would fit 40 of the crash-resistant tanks to its fleet in the wake of the crash, which Mr Robb called "too little, too late".

Mr Robb said he previously won a 38 million dollar (£28 million) lawsuit for Chana Daskal, who suffered burns over 85% of her body, having been the sole survivor of a Papillon crash in the Grand Canyon 17 years ago.

The crash-resistant fuel system is not currently mandatory in the US for helicopters certified before 1994.

Press Association

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