A veterinary receptionist, her boyfriend and his brother were killed during a ‘trip of a lifetime’ when the helicopter they were in crashed and exploded into a fireball during a sightseeing tour of the Grand Canyon.
Becky Dobson, 27, and brothers Jason Hill, 32, and Stuart Hill, 30, all died while Jennifer Barham, 39, and newlywed couple Ellie Milward, 29, and Jonathan Udall, 32, are fighting for their lives in hospital.
The group of six friends had spent a year saving for the trip to America to celebrate Stuart’s 30th birthday when their chopper crashed during a 50mph storm on the Hualapai Nation reservation near the Grand Canyon’s West Rim. Pilot Scott Booth, 42, was airlifted to hospital where he remains in a critical condition.
Traumatised witnesses watched on in horror as the chopper plummeted 600ft into the rocky canyon and burst into flames before survivors were seen staggering out of the inferno, with one woman heard screaming ‘Jason’.
It is unclear whether the survivor pictured fleeing the wreckage is Ms Barham or Ms Milward.
Stuart and Jason’s grief-stricken father, Reverend David Hill, said a ‘light has truly gone out’ but took comfort in the ‘incredibly close’ brothers dying together.
He described his sons, Stuart, a Mercedes car salesman, and Jason, a solicitor, as ‘wonderful boys’ who were ‘inseparable’.
Becky’s parents received the tragic news as they were enjoying a week-long holiday in Turkey and were flying back to the UK this morning. Her father said she was ‘always happy’ and looking forward to the trip.
The Eurocopter EC130 crashed in ‘unknown circumstances’ at around 5.30pm on Saturday, 60 miles northwest of Peach Springs, Arizona.
The Rev David Hill, a chaplain, from Worthing, West Sussex, said of his sons: ‘The boys had been saving for over a year for this trip and they were really looking forward to it.
‘They and a group of friends had all flown out to celebrate Stuart’s birthday and it was part of the trip for them to all go on a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon.
‘We found out yesterday about the crash and me and their mother, Sandra, are truly devastated.
‘The boys were so close, they were born 22 months apart and were like twins. They were just inseparable.
‘Jason worked as a solicitor and Stuart worked as a car salesman, they both lived very successful lives, we were so proud of them.
‘We are so lucky to have had our boys for 30 years. We are so heartbroken.’
Mr Hill, 32, was a private equity solicitor for national law firm Shoosmiths, after joining as a trainee and had worked his way up to senior associate with the company.
The 32-year-old studied law at the University of Southampton, graduating in 2007 with a 2:1,
He completed his training at the College of Law in Guildford, Surrey, before joining Shoosmiths.
In September 2011, he became a corporate solicitor at the national firm.
Shoosmiths chief executive Claire Rowe said they were ‘saddened’ by the tragic passing of a ‘respected’ and ‘loved’ member of their firm.
She said: ‘He was hardworking, full of energy and enjoyable to work with, and we are greatly saddened by the news of his death and that of his brother Stuart. Our immediate thoughts are with their family at this very difficult and tragic time.’
Animal lover Becky Dobson described herself as an ‘outgoing person, always up for having fun.’
Becky worked as a receptionist at the Vets4Pets practice in Worthing, West Sussex, and had dreams of becoming a veterinary nurse.
Ms Dobson’s father Peter Dobson said his daughter was ‘full of life and looking forward to going to Vegas for her boyfriend’s 30th birthday to celebrate’.
He added: ‘She was a lovely girl. Everyone liked her, she liked her travelling – she went to Australia for a year to travel round.’
‘She was always happy. They just went for a long weekend; a four-night break. They were staying in Vegas, they had been looking forward to it for a long time.
‘They [Stuart and Becky] have known each other quite a while, they both live in Worthing.
‘They were really happy together, they were always going out and doing things, just enjoyed being with each other. The whole thing is just terrible.’
One witness told ABC News a young woman ‘collapsed to the ground and began screaming the name Jason’.
Hualapai Nation Police Chief Francis Bradley Sr. said the survivors were taken to a Las Vegas hospital at 2am on Sunday, some nine hours after the crash.
The four survivors are being treated as level one trauma patients, meaning they have critical, life-threatening injuries.
Describing herself on the Vets4Pets website, Becky said: ‘My favourite things to do are, spending time up the yard with my four legged, beautiful boy, Buddy the Irish sports horse, seeing friends and family and I also love to travel the world.
‘I love my job and I am hoping to one day fulfil my dream of becoming a Veterinary Nurse!’
Becky’s parents booked return flights to the UK and her elder sister, Nicola Rugman, 32, was waiting for them to return today.
Her mother-in-law Ellen Rugman said the whole family were ‘absolutely devastated’ by the shocking tragedy and the loss.
She said they were all struggling to comprehend how the accident had happened but were too upset to speak.
Jonathan Udall, 32 and his wife, Ellie Milward, 29, went on the trip as part of their honeymoon after getting married last year, according to Jonathan’s father, Philip.
Speaking from the family home in Southampton, Philip said the family were desperately trying to get a flight over to their son and daughter-in-law’s bedside.
He said: ‘We found out yesterday lunchtime that they Jonathan and Ellie had been involved in an accident.
‘We don’t know much more than what has been reported in the papers and we are just desperately trying to get a flight over at the moment.
‘We have spoken to the hospital and they are in a critical condition but they told us they are currently stable.
‘The information is currently quite sketchy but we know that other families will be suffering a lot worse than us at the moment. Others were not so lucky.
‘Johnathan and Ellie were on their honeymoon after recently getting married. At this point, we don’t know much more we are just in a rush to get out there. We’re desperate for news.’
Chief Bradley said one of the survivors suffered severe burns and the pilot had severe injury to one of his limbs.
High-winds and rugged terrain initially delayed transportation and first responders worked to stabilise the injured for several hours.
Chief Bradley said rescue crews were hampered by high winds of up to 50mph and darkness Saturday night along with rugged terrain.
He said: ‘First responders had to be flown in and walk to the crash site.
‘Quartermaster Canyon is an extremely remote area. We had to call in specially trained crews – people with night-vision goggles.’
Photographer Teddy Fujimoto told DailyMail.com he had flown to the Grand Canyon to take wedding pictures when he saw people rushing by.
Kaitlyn Rodriguez was on the same tour and witnessed the tragedy.
She wrote on Facebook: ‘I was on this tour and moments after our helicopter landed, witnessed the crash.
‘My amazingly brave mother, along with several others, trekked down into the ravine to assist the survivors.
‘We were stranded in the Grand Canyon for hours, my Mom being at the bottom administering medical attention to the survivors for over 10 hours.
‘So very proud of her and all who helped the victims of the crash. Such a tragic accident.’
‘Our pilot and other pilots all started running. I followed them and I saw smoke. Immediately saw two girls. I could see that they were alive and conscious. They were in their 30s or 40,’ he said.
‘People made their way down. It was certainly dangerous and a mazy climb down for them. It took around 10 minutes for the emergency services to arrive. By the time they did, most of the fire was out.’
Fujimoto said he was left numbed by what he had seen.
‘Everybody was in shock. I just felt horrible,’ he said.
‘You could hear the screaming loudly, even from all that way away. I’ve never seen anything like it’.
The helicopter – owned by Papillon Airways, a sightseeing company that specializes in helicopter tours of the canyon – suffered ‘sustained substantial damage’ in the accident.
The tour company released a statement Sunday, promising full cooperation with crash investigators and offering sympathy.
‘It is with extreme sadness we extend our heartfelt sympathy to the families involved in this accident,’ Papillon Group CEO Brenda Halvorson said. ‘Our top priority is the care and needs of our passengers and our staff.’
In August 2001, a Grand Canyon tour helicopter operated by Papillion crashed and burned near Meaview, Arizona. The pilot and five passengers – who were all from New York – died. An NTSB report issued in 2004 blamed the pilot’s decision to descend too fast and too close to the scenic Grand Wash Cliffs.
Calls and emails to Nevada-based Papillio, which bills itself as the world’s largest aerial sightseeing company, for comment on the crash were not immediately returned Sunday.
The company’s website says it flies roughly 600,000 passengers a year around the Grand Canyon and on other tours.
It also notes that it ‘abides by flight safety rules and regulations that substantially exceed the regulations required by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The Federal Aviation Administration will be investigating the crash of the Eurocopter EC130, spokesman Allen Kenitzer said.