Two brothers were among three Britons killed in a helicopter crash in the Grand Canyon that left three other UK tourists critically injured, it emerged today.
Jason Hill, 32, his brother Stuart, 30, and Stuart’s girlfriend Becky Dobson, 27, died when the aircraft came down in the Arizona desert 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 a critical condition in hospital today with severe burns and other injuries.
One witnessed described watching a woman stagger from the wreckage before collapsing and screaming out the name Jason.
Their father, the Reverend David Hill, told the Standard the only comfort was that the “incredibly close” brothers, originally from Worthing, West Sussex, died together.
Describing his family as “Team Hill”, he said: “The two brothers loved each other and were very close, and so our misfortune is their support — because they went together, and I will thank God every day for them.”
Unable to hold back tears, he added: “They were truly loved by lots of people.
“They were incredibly close and as parents we feel blessed to have had them, but a light has truly gone out.”He said the only information they had was that the brothers and Ms Dobson had died. “Six of them went out for my son’s 30th birthday,” he said.
“They had saved for a year to go. We are absolutely devastated.”
Jason Hill worked for Shoosmiths Solicitors and was about to become a partner, his family said.
A law graduate from the University of Southampton, he qualified from The College of Law in Guildford and worked in the corporate law department specialising in private equity transactions. His brother worked for Lookers, the car retailer.
Ms Dobson, who spent time working as an au pair in Australia, worked as a receptionist at the Vets4Pets practice in Worthing and dreamt of becoming a veterinary nurse.
She described herself as an “outgoing person, always up for having fun” and added: “My favourite things are spending time up the yard with my four-legged, beautiful boy, Buddy the Irish sports horse, seeing friends and family and I also love to travel the world.”
Mr Udall’s father, Philip Udall, at the family home in Southampton, said: “Jon is still alive and breathing, we are so thankful for that. He’s in a serious but stable condition in hospital but we hope he’s going to be OK.
“He only got married in November last year and his wife Ellie was also injured. She is stable at the moment and not as seriously injured as Jon.”
The helicopter crashed in rugged terrain in an area known as Quartermaster Canyon, according to Hualapai Nation police chief Francis Bradley.
Rescuers fought strong winds and were forced to hike down to the remote area of jagged rocks in the canyon’s West Rim beauty spot. It meant the injured had to wait for nine hours before being airlifted to a Las Vegas hospital at about 2am.
Lionel Douglass, who was attending a nearby wedding, saw the helicopter crash after circling twice. “It happened so fast,” he told ABC News.
“When I saw them turning, I wasn’t sure what he was doing and by the time I yelled to everybody to turn around and look, it was all out of control.
“It fell between the mountains, the tail broke in half, it hit the bottom and it was the biggest explosion you ever heard and then flames like you never seen before.”
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The explosion was followed by five or six others. Mr Douglass said he zoomed in with his phone camera and saw a woman stagger from the wreckage.He said: “I had taken my phone and I was zooming in to see if I could see anybody and a lady walked out of the flames and I just lost it.”
He said the woman collapsed and began screaming out the name Jason. Another witness, Teddy Fujimoto, saw two female survivors in the aftermath. He said: “It’s just horrible. And those victims. It’s unimaginable, the pain.”
The group are believed to have hired “The Grand Celebration” tour package from Papillon Airways, flying on an EC130 helicopter. Papillon, which takes about 600,000 passengers a year on Grand Canyon trips, said it offers “the only way to tour” the national park.
It is co-operating with investigators. Chief executive Brenda Halvorson said: “We extend our heartfelt sympathy to the families involved in this accident. Our top priority is the care and needs of our passengers and our staff.”
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.”
The Grand Canyon national park is one of the world’s most popular natural attractions, drawing about five million visitors per year. The canyon is 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide and about a mile deep. (Evening Standard)