Responders describe rescue after helicopter crash near Grand Canyon

Mohave County Search and Rescue helped save four people from the deadly helicopter crash near the Grand Canyon Saturday. (FOX5)

Mohave County Search and Rescue helped save four people from the deadly helicopter crash near the Grand Canyon Saturday.

The rescue group was in charge of getting the survivors from inside the canyon to safety. Members said no matter how many times they do these rescues, it never gets easy.

The call came in just before 6:00 p.m. Saturday. A helicopter had crashed carrying a pilot and six passengers. Three died in the crash.

“It was not a normal setting, you know, down the street where this happened. This was in the wilderness. This was in a very difficult place to get to,” Mohave Search and Rescue Volunteer Amanda Kaufman said.

The team immediately flew as close as they could to the crash site, but they still had a treacherous 30-minute hike to the actual wreckage.

“By the time we got there, it was dark,” senior rescuer Luis Vega explained. “My first concern was for the rest of my crew. I had to climb back up the mountain a couple of times to shine the flashlights, so they could follow because we had to walk along a cliff.”

When they got to the wreckage, other first responders were already hard at work.

“It was tragic. There were a lot of emotions going around. You had injured people that knew they had lost somebody. There was just a lot of stress there,” Kaufman said.

“Training just takes over just like clockwork,” Mohave Search and Rescue Volunteer Bob Rose said. “It was about a hundred yard hike up the wash, up boulders and things like that, so even once we get them packaged up on their backboard or in the stokes basket it's still … our job's not done.”

The crew worked for hours getting the injured out of the dark canyon to safety.

“We're on autopilot. We are doing what we're trained to do. The hardest part is when that's over and we're down in the canyon realizing the tragedy that has occurred and our concern is with the injured and then come to the realization that we're not getting out that night,” Vega said.

All helicopter operations had to stop because they'd been running non-stop throughout the evening. The crew was stuck in the canyon in temperatures near freezing until morning.

The crew is required to keep a 24-hour emergency kit with them for situations like this rescue mission. They said they were prepared, but it was still difficult.

“You start to shift from okay extrication mode we're doing what we've trained to 'Geez, we're really thinking about the family and praying for the families,'” Rose said.

The six passengers on the flight were from the United Kingdom. They were reportedly in Las Vegas celebrating a birthday.

The cause of the crash was still unknown as of Tuesday. A preliminary investigative report was expected in next week. The full report could take up to a year and a half.

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