Smethwick couple suing tour operator over Grand Canyon crash which killed son

By David Cosgrove | Smethwick | News | Published:

The Smethwick parents of a newlywed groom who was among five Britons to die a helicopter crash in the Grand Canyon are suing the tour operator in a wrongful death lawsuit.

Jonathan Udall, who died in hospital days before his wife Ellie Milward, could have survived if Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters and manufacturer Airbus Helicopters had not negligently failed to install a crash-resistant fuel tank, according to the lawsuit filed yesterday.

The honeymooning couple died in hospital as a result of burns sustained in the crash on February 10 which killed their friends Becky Dobson, her boyfriend Stuart Hill and his brother Jason Hill.

Lawyers for Jonathan Udall's parents, Philip and Marlene Udall, claim in the lawsuit filed in Nevada that their 31-year-old son would not have sustained 'severe and catastrophic' burns if the Airbus EC130 B4 had been fitted the fuel system.

After the lawsuit was filed, lawyer Gary Robb said: "Mr and Mrs Udall deeply grieve for the loss of their son but their primary motivation now is to prevent anyone else from having to suffer the deadly burn injuries as their son did.

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"If this helicopter had been properly equipped with a crash-resistant fuel system, it would have allowed this young man to walk away injury-free."

They are also suing pilot Scott Booth, who was taken to hospital in a critical condition, accusing him of negligence for crashing.


Also named in the lawsuit are Papillon directors Brenda Halvorson and Elling Halvorson, president Geoff Edlund and chief operating officer John Becker. The family allege they failed to ensure the helicopter was in a "safe and defect free" condition.

They also accuse mechanic Matthew Hecker and its inspector Daniel Friedman of negligence over the state of the helicopter, in particular its tail rotor.

The helicopter was engulfed in flames after the crash (Teddy Fujimoto/AP)

A coroner ruled Mr Udall, who was from Birmingham but living with his 29-year-old wife, in Worthing, West Sussex, died of 'complications of thermal injury'.


Ms Dobson, 27, Stuart Hill, 30, and Jason Hill, 32, all from Worthing, were said to have died at the scene of 'multiple injuries'.

Their friend, Jennifer Barham, 39, was also rescued and airlifted to Las Vegas's University Medical Centre.

The Udalls are asking for in excess of $195,000 (£141,000) in damages, as well as punitive damages and a jury trial.

The lawsuit comes after it was announced Papillon would fit 40 of the crash-resistant tanks to its fleet in the wake of the crash, which Mr Robb called 'too little, too late'.

Mr Robb said he previously won a $38 million (£28 million) lawsuit for Chana Daskal, who suffered burns over 85 per cent of her body, having been the sole survivor of a Papillon crash in the Grand Canyon 17 years ago.

The crash-resistant fuel system is not currently mandatory in the US for helicopters certified before 1994.

David Cosgrove

By David Cosgrove
Chief Reporter - @davidcosgrove_

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