Grand Canyon helicopter crash – Gudrun Young represented family of groom at the inquest of the 5 friends who were killed
Gudrun Young appeared before the West Sussex Coroners Court at the inquest into the Grand Canyon Helicopter Crash in February 2018 in which five British holiday makers were tragically killed. Gudrun represented the family of Jonathan Udall, 31 who had recently married Eleanor, 29. The couple had arranged a holiday of a lifetime to celebrate their honeymoon with two other couples Rebecca Dobson, 26, her boyfriend Stuart Hill, 30, his brother Jason Hill, 31 and Jennifer Dorricott. They boarded a tourist helicopter for a sightseeing trip over the Grand Canyon. The helicopter took off without difficulty and was attempting to land at its designated spot in the Grand Canyon when the crash happened. It was the ninth of ten helicopters doing the same trip. The previous eight had landed without problem, although one of the pilots had reported adverse weather conditions including high gusts of wind. As it was descending it appears that the pilot lost control, the helicopter began to spin and crashed near to the landing sight, bursting into a ball of flames upon impact.Three of the friends – Rebecca, Jason and Stuart – did not escape the crash and were pronounced dead at the scene but the others managed to make it out despite sustaining extreme burns. They were assisted by witnesses to the incident but had to wait several hours before being airlifted out of the Grand Canyon. Jennifer and the pilot survived with life-changing injuries but Jonathan and Eleanor died in hospital several days later.
It subsequently transpired that the pilot had not long before failed a safety test involving landing in adverse weather conditions but had successfully re-taken it a few days later.
The Coroner heard heartbreaking statements from the families, including a tribute to Jonathan that Gudrun read to the Court. After considering expert evidence and a report commissioned by the National Transportation Safety Board in the US, she concluded that the pilot had lost control in gusty wind conditions and that all five victims had survived the crash but died as a result of injuries caused by the explosion of the fuel tank. She gave verdicts of accidental death.
Controversially, the helicopter had not been fitted with a crash resistant fuel system (CRFS) designed to minimise the risk of the fuel tank exploding upon impact. The Federal Air Agency introduced legislation in 1994 requiring all new aircraft to be fitted with a CRFS but this did not operate retrospectively. The helicopter in question had been built in 2010 but in line with a model dating from the 1970s so was exempted from the legislation. The Coroner took note of expert evidence that in various crash studies no fatalities had been recorded in cases where a CRFS was fitted, but was unable, on balance, to conclude that with a CRFS the victims would have survived because the helicopter crashed into rocky terrain populated with several boulders that may have penetrated the fuel tank in any event, although there was no evidence that they had in fact done so.
The Udall family are in the process of suing Airbus, the manufacturers of the helicopter, in the US on the basis that they were negligent in not installing a CRFS which they believe would have prevented the fuel tank from exploding. It is clear that, if the fuel tank had not exploded, all the victims would have survived as none of them sustained any impact injuries.
The Coroner made a Regulation 28 Prevention of Future Deaths report to the Civil Aviation Authority recommending that it should be mandatory that all aircraft in the UK are fitted with a CRFS.