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Pastor describes blast, flames in Grand Canyon copter crash


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PHOENIX — A Las Vegas pastor said witnessing a “big explosion and instant flames” when a sightseeing helicopter crashed at the Grand Canyon, killing three British tourists, has left him shaken.

Pastor Lionel Douglass had just finished performing a wedding ceremony on Feb. 10 when he saw the helicopter go down on tribal land outside Grand Canyon National Park, The Arizona Republic reported .

“You can’t see something like that and not be shook up and know it could be you,” said Douglas, who had travelled to the natural wonder in a different helicopter. “Then you have to get back on the helicopter. It was very traumatic. Even though we survived.”

Four others survived the crash and were still hospitalized in critical condition.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the wreck, and preliminary findings were expected before the end of the month. A full report won’t be done for more than a year.

Douglas, who has done numerous other weddings in the area over the years, said the sightseeing helicopter was “making two circles like it was looking for a place to land, but not wide circles.”

He called to his pilot to ask what the helicopter was doing. As soon as the pilot turned around, the aircraft went down.

“The plane tilts, falls down between the ravine, cracks in half, hits the bottom, you hear a big explosion and instant flames,” Douglass said.

With rugged rock and brush between them, Douglass said he could not have gotten to the crash site but watched as other tourists ran to try to reach the victims. He saw at least two people hike over to help them, reaching the victims before first responders could get there.

He said he wanted to see if anyone survived the crash, so he used his phone to take a video and zoom in.

In one video, the helicopter is not visible, only flames and black smoke. As the camera comes into focus, a woman in a white shirt and jeans is walking out of the wreckage. Douglass says, “Oh, God,” and the video cuts out.

In a second video, as the woman staggers around, he says, “There’s one, one person’s out. We can’t even get to her. She must be so shook up right now. Oh, my God.”

Douglass said he heard five more explosions.


Information from: The Arizona Republic, http://www.azcentral.com