Feds Investigate Helicopter Crash That Killed 5 Near Lake Mead

A helicopter crash that killed five people on a sunset sightseeing tour just 30 miles outside the Las Vegas Strip was under federal investigation today.

Details remained sketchy, though an National Transportation Safety Board official said the company that operated the helicopter involved in Wednesday's crash "has a history."

The Clark County coroner late Thursday still was not officially identifying the victims the crash, though The Las Vegas Review Journal reported a man said that the pilot was his son, Landon Nield, 31, who worked for Sundance Helicopters for several years and was married in June.

Sundance Helicopters later confirmed Landon Nield was operating the helicopter that crashed, The Associated Press reported. And Nield's family released a statement to the AP thanking emergency responders and noting that a fund would be established to benefit Nield's wife and children.

"Landon was a beloved husband and father," the statement said. "He is the father of two wonderful children. Landon was raised in a family of 14 children. He was a loving and caring man. The Nield family's thoughts and prayers are with the families who lost loved ones in the terrible, tragic accident."

The National Transportation Safety Board this morning launched a 12-person team to review the crash, Mark Rosekind, an NTSB member and its spokesman at the scene, told reporters. Though the team arrived around 10 a.m., the NTSB only had limited information on the exact details of the crash this evening.  

"The site is very difficult to access," Rosekind said. "It has taken four-by-fours and helicopters [to get there]. It's going to be very difficult, and there will be very limited access to the site. It will make it harder.

"Very little factual information is known at this time," Rosekind added, though he noted Sunshine Helicopters' previous safety record.

"This operator has some history," Rosekind said.

In 2003, the NTSB investigated another Sunshine Helicopters crash that killed the pilot and all six passengers while flying through Descent Canyon. In its report, the NTSB provided statements from previous passengers complaining about the pilot's alleged unsafe maneuvers. The report claimed that Sunshine Helicopters never enforced a one-week suspension without pay to the pilot, allowing him to continue flying.

Rosekind said the investigators would stay at the crash scene for three to five days, and he expected the NTSB would issue a report in about 10 days.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., today praised the efforts of the rescue team and sent condolences to the victims' families. He also promised diligence and partnership with the NTSB throughout the investigation to assure the safety of future helicopter tours throughout Nevada.

"My thoughts this morning are with the families of the five people who died in a terrible crash yesterday," Reid said in a statement published on his website. "Hundreds of thousands of tourists enjoy these popular helicopter tours of Nevada each year, and I'm saddened that people lost their lives in this rare tragedy.

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