Papillon, Airbus Sued Over Fuel System in Fatal Grand Canyon Crash, Reports Say

By S.L. Fuller | March 5, 2018
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Image courtesy of the NTSB

Image courtesy of the NTSB

Both a helicopter operator and the original equipment manufacturer are being sued over the fatal Feb. 10 crash of a tourism helicopter in the Grand Canyon. Multiple news outlets reported that the parents of a British tourist who succumbed to injuries sustained in the crash have filed a complaint in Nevada’s Clark County District Court accusing Papillon Airways and Airbus Helicopters of negligence in failing to equip the helicopter with a crash-resistant fuel system (CRFS).

News reports, including one by Associated Press, say the complaint, filed Friday, is the first wrongful death lawsuit related to the crash. The NTSB’s preliminary report cited three fatal injuries and four serious. Two additional fatalities occurred after the crash: Jonathan Udall, whose parents filed the complaint, and his wife, Ellie Milward Udall. The pilot and one other passenger remain in the hospital, as of Friday, according to reports.


The NTSB report states an Airbus EC130 B4 was destroyed when it impacted a canyon wash while on approach to land at Quartermaster landing zone. As it turned toward the landing zone, the helicopter began to slightly drift aft, the report says. It then maneuvered into a nose-level configuration and continued in the left turn. Subsequently, the helicopter made at least two full left turns as it fell into the wash below. It impacted terrain, inciting a post-crash fire.

According to the NTSB, the fire consumed most of the wreckage, except for the tailboom and fenestron. Those were separated from the fuselage, but remained co-located.

The report did not say whether the aircraft was equipped with a CRFS.

StandardAero said Feb. 26 it had signed a memorandum of understanding for 40 crash-resistant fuel tanks to install on Papillons' fleet of Airbus AS350 B3s and EC130 B4s. The first installation is scheduled for April.

The tank was developed by Vector Aerospace, which was formerly owned by Airbus and now StandardAero, and Robertson Fuel systems as a direct replacement for all AS350 models, including the AS350 C, AS350 D/D1, AS350 B/B1/B2/BA/B3 and AS350 B3e (H125), as well as for the EC130 B4. It received FAA certification in December 2017.

Current FAA rules mandate that all helicopters certificated after 1994 must be fitted with CFRS components. Therefore, although the crashed EC130 was manufactured in 2010, the model was built from an old design, making it exempt.

StandardAero said the FAA Reauthorization Act now includes an amendment that requires FAA to make helicopter owners aware of fuel system retrofits and to urge them to install retrofits "as soon as practicable."

A report by Las Vegas Review-Journal says the lawsuit blames faulty tail rotor, failed weather checks and pilot inexperience.

Robb & Robb LLC’s Gary Robb filed the lawsuit. According to the Associated Press, the lawsuit is seeking more than $195,000, other unspecified damages, attorneys’ fees and a jury trial.

Attorney Gary C. Robb recently represented flight nurse David Repsher after his body was badly burned in a post-crash fire after an Air Methods AS350 B3e crashed and erupted in flame in Frisco, Colorado, in 2015. According to Reuters, Repsher won a record $100 million cash settlement.

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