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5 bodies removed from site of Vegas tour helicopter crash

December 8, 2011 | 10:03 pm

Las vegas crash

Rescue teams Thursday recovered the bodies of the five people killed outside Las Vegas when a sightseeing helicopter plummeted into a ravine that authorities could reach only via helicopter and all-terrain vehicles.

Meanwhile, the National Transportation Safety Board launched an inquiry into what downed the aircraft, operated by Sundance Helicopters, during a sunset tour Wednesday of the Las Vegas Strip and Hoover Dam. A pilot and four passengers were aboard.

Relatives of Delwin and Tamara Chapman of Kansas identified them as two of the crash victims, the Associated Press reported. The Chapmans had traveled to Las Vegas to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary.

The pilot was identified by his father as Landon Nield, 31. Nield had worked for Sundance Helicopters for several years, White Eagle Nield told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He had gotten married in June, and his wife, Gabriela, had two children from a previous marriage.

Authorities had not released the identities of the other two passengers late Thursday. Clark County Coroner Mike Murphy told the AP that medical examiners may need to use DNA, fingerprint and dental records to confirm who was aboard the Eurocopter AS350.

Federal investigators will comb the site for several days, said NTSB board member Mark Rosekind. A final report on the incident, which includes safety recommendations intended to prevent future crashes, could take as long as a year.

Sundance, which flies out of McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, was involved in a fatal crash in 2003 when one of its helicopters smacked into a canyon wall near the Grand Canyon, killing the pilot and six passengers. An NTSB report said that that pilot, nicknamed "Kamikaze," had a history of flying recklessly.

Former co-workers told investigators that the pilot in the 2003 crash often “worked the helicopter, pushed the aircraft, and pushed the rules of flight in Descent Canyon,” the report said. The NTSB found that the tour company had failed to discipline him.

Sundance has been involved in at least four other accidents since 1997, the AP reported. The company has also been the subject of 10 federal enforcement actions since 1994, although most were for minor violations.


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--Ashley Powers in Las Vegas

Photo: Mechanics work on a grounded Sundance tour helicopter Thursday on the tarmac at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. Credit: Isaac Brekken/Associated Press