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Pilot in Grand Canyon helicopter crash ‘lost control due to violent gust’

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The pilot of a helicopter that crashed in the Grand Canyon in 2018, killing five British tourists, told investigators he was not able to control the aircraft after a “violent gust of wind” sent it spinning, according to a US report.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released its final report on Thursday that said tailwinds, potential downdrafts and turbulence were the probable cause of the loss of control.

The investigation found no evidence of mechanical problems with the helicopter.

The report did not include any safety recommendations.

The Airbus EC130 B4 crashed just before sunset in February 2018 in a section of the Grand Canyon where air tours are not as highly regulated as in the national park.

A memorial service was held in Sussex for Stuart and Jason Hill, who were killed alongside Becky Dobson in a helicopter crash in the Grand Canyon (Gareth Fuller/PA)

The pilot, Scott Booth, was attempting to land next to the Colorado River on the Hualapai reservation when the gust hit.

“It just took the aircraft from me,” he told investigators in an interview months after the crash. “It just spun it, and I couldn’t fly it. It just took it so quickly.”

Witnesses saw the helicopter make at least two 360-degree turns before hitting the ground and bursting into flames.

Three of the tourists, from Worthing, West Sussex, were pronounced dead at the scene: veterinary receptionist Becky Dobson, 27; her boyfriend and car salesman Stuart Hill, 30; and Mr Hill’s brother, 32-year-old lawyer Jason Hill.

Two others in their group — Jonathan Udall, 31, from Southampton, and 29-year-old Ellie Milward Udall — later died from burn injuries.

Mr Booth fractured his lower left leg and passenger Jennifer Barham suffered a spinal fracture. They also suffered severe burns but survived.

Gary Robb, a lawyer for Mr Udall, called the NTSB investigation thorough and well-researched.

“The Udall family from the beginning has wanted to find out what happened so this can prevent other helicopter victims from literally being burned alive,” he said.

The investigation revealed a chaotic attempt to render aid.

Witnesses who included other pilots, passengers and a wedding party in the canyon saw smoke and heard screams after the helicopter crashed. Some people ran toward the flames to help, against the pilots’ advice to stay close to picnic tables.

Witnesses saw two women emerge from the flaming wreckage, dazed, burned and bleeding. They were screaming for their loved ones, pilots said.

The British tourists boarded the helicopter earlier that day in Boulder City near Las Vegas as part of a trip to celebrate Stuart Hill’s birthday and the Udalls as newlyweds.

Mourners gathered at St Matthews Church in Worthing (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Mr Booth had worked for the air tour company Papillon since June 2013, most recently part-time. He had flown passengers into the Grand Canyon and landed in the gorge nearly 600 times. Most days, the weather was calm and the flights routine, he said.

As Mr Booth approached the canyon, he took note that other parked helicopters were pointing different directions and saw a windsock “waving like a waffle”. He slowed down to land and was hit hard by the wind, manoeuvring to try to gain control, he said.

Next thing he knew, he was up on a ledge, and his trousers were on fire. Another pilot used a tourniquet on Mr Booth’s leg. Others were covering him with blankets and jackets, he said.

Witnesses tried to use a satellite phone but the battery was dead. They attempted to draw power from a helicopter but had no service. A box containing medical supplies had to be smashed open because no one knew the combination to the lock, according to the NTSB report.

Pilots began ferrying emergency responders who reached the site about 45 minutes later, the report said. Victims were not taken to hospitals for six hours because of the remoteness of the area and communications issues, the NTSB said.

Pilots flying that day anticipated wind but the NTSB said it is unlikely they were alerted to weather advisories about turbulence and stronger winds that were issued after their morning briefing.

Investigators also noted that the helicopter lacked a crash-resistant fuel system. The helicopters in Papillon’s fleet were not required to have them, but the company has since retrofitted the aircraft with fuel tanks that expand and seal upon impact instead of rupturing.

After the crash, Papillon also placed new satellite phones with better coverage, trauma kits and a collapsible metal stretcher in unlocked metal containers in the canyon for emergencies.

The family of Mr Udall sued the helicopter company and the aircraft manufacturer, accusing them of failing to equip the helicopter with the crash-resistant system. That case is ongoing.

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Iran

Tehran, Yerevan to boost coop. in joint tech. projects

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Tehran, Yerevan to boost coop. in joint tech. projects

Heading a high-ranking delegation, Armenian Minister of Economy Vahan Karubian met and held talks with Iranian Vice President for Science and Technology Sorena Sattari so as to discuss the conditions for the development of the relations between the two countries in the field of technological infrastructure and scientific achievements.

Referring to Iran’s program and initiatives to return Iranian elites to the country, he said, “First, some mechanisms are provided for their return to the country. For example, by creating science parks, innovation centers, and innovation factories, we pave the way for elite activities in the country and then encourage them to return home.”

He went on to say that through this plan, in 3 years, 2,000 Iranian students, graduated from the top 100 universities in the world, have returned to the country.

Given that this model is closer to the culture of Armenia, it is certainly more applicable to the officials and managers of this country for the return of their elites. Iran is also ready to provide Armenia with its native model, Sattari said.

Sating that Iran owns the largest start-ups in the region specialized in the field of information and communication technology, biotechnology, nanotechnology, stem cells, as well as about 50 science parks, he said, “Today, 98% of the medicine needed in the country are produced domestically by Iranian experts.”

He also expressed Iran’s readiness to assist Armenia in the development of new technologies.

Armenian Minister, for his part, welcomed the implementation of a joint project in the field of technology parks, saying that Iran enjoys high scientific and technological capacities, his country interested in using them.

Armenia seeks a program to repatriate its elites and educated people from all over the world. Therefore, elite return program implemented in Iran can be used in Armenia indigenously, he added.

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Indonesia sends seized Iran tanker to Batam for investigation

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Indonesia sends seized Iran tanker to Batam for investigation

The two supertankers, with crew members from Iran and China, were seized last Sunday (Jan 24) in Indonesian waters near Kalimantan island. 

The MT Horse, owned by the National Iranian Tanker Company and MT Freya, managed by Shanghai Future Ship Management Co, had a total of 61 crew members on board.

“The ships will arrive in Batam at around 3pm to 4pm later today,” Wisnu Pramandita, spokesman of the Indonesian coast guard, told Reuters.

Wisnu said some of the crew remained in the supertankers, but others were being detained on coast guard ships for questioning while the investigation was underway.

Wisnu told Reuters on Monday that the ships were “caught red-handed” transferring oil from MT Horse to MT Freya and that there was an oil spill around the receiving tanker.

Iran said on Monday that MT Horse was seized over a “technical issue” and had asked Indonesia to explain the seizure.

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AstraZeneca offers to bring forward some Covid vaccine deliveries to EU

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AstraZeneca has offered to bring forward some deliveries of its Covid-19 vaccine to the European Union while the bloc has asked the British drugmaker if it can divert doses from the UK to make up for a shortfall in supplies, European officials told Reuters.

The Anglo-Swedish company unexpectedly announced on Friday it would cut supplies to the EU of its vaccine candidate in the first quarter of this year, a move that a senior EU official said meant a 60 per cent reduction to 31 million doses for the bloc.

That complicated the EU’s vaccination plans, after Pfizer had also announced a temporary slowdown in deliveries of its vaccine, and triggered an outcry in Brussels and EU capitals.

Two European officials said on Tuesday that AstraZeneca at two extraordinary meetings on Monday had offered the EU to bring forward to February 7th the start of deliveries from an initial plan to begin on February 15th.

One of the sources, briefed on talks, said that AstraZeneca had also revised upward its supply goals for February compared to the cuts announced last week, but the company offered no clarity on supplies for March.

This appears to be an overture by AstraZeneca to try and keep the peace with the EU as the row over its sudden cut to deliveries escalates, damaging trust between Brussels and the drugmaker before the shot has been approved in the region.

The second EU official, directly involved in the talks, said however there was no offer to increase supplies.

AstraZeneca has quarterly supply targets. Therefore an increase in February, if not followed by a rise in March, may not constitute an overall increase in the quarter.

The head of Lithuania’s drugs watchdog Gytis Andrulionis told Reuters AstraZeneca on Monday increased its planned supplies for February for Lithuania and other EU countries compared to Fridays cuts, but noted that was still not enough to comply with the EU contract.

AstraZeneca was not immediately available for comment.

Inadequate answers

After Monday’s meetings, EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides said AstraZeneca had not offered adequate answers to questions posed by the EU.

The EU official involved in the talks also said that the EU had explicitly asked AstraZeneca whether it could divert to the 27-nation bloc doses produced in Britain, at least through March.

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But the company did not answer these questions, the official said.

AstraZeneca has said the revised timetable was caused by production issues in Europe. One EU senior official told Reuters last week that the problem was at a vaccine factory in Belgium run by AstraZeneca’s partner Novasep.

A spokesman for the EU Commission declined to comment on details of the talks with AstraZeneca, but added that the EU wanted “a precise delivery schedule”.

On December 30th Britain granted emergency approval to the shot developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University. A decision on authorisation in the EU is expected on Friday.

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