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How safe are helicopter rides in the Grand Canyon?

Three died in a chopper crash on Saturday, with four surviving.
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Las Vegas is one of the most visited cities in the U.S. and one of its many attractions is its proximity to the Grand Canyon.

If you're driving it's a four hour haul, but for a quicker trip with guaranteed spectacular views, helicopter tours are hugely popular among tourists who are willing to spend a bit more.

But on Saturday evening, three people died when a helicopter crashed in the Grand Canyon, with four managing to survive the incident.

So how often does this happen?

ABC News reports that there are an estimated 800,000 people who fly over the Grand Canyon in helicopters and fixed wing airplanes every year.

And in the past 15 years, it notes, almost 50 have died in crashes.

If we take 50 deaths over 12,000,000 travelers in the past 15 years (800k a year), that's a fatality rate of a minuscule 0.000416 percent, or 0.049 deaths per 100,000 travelers.

So the chances are you'll be safe if you see the Grand Canyon from the air. Even in the event of engine failure, this myth-busting page from Today I Found Out describes how pilots are trained to land helicopters safely.

The company involved in Saturday's crash, Papillon Helicopters, carries 600,000 people a year over the Grand Canyon and Hawaii, and has had 15 accidents since 1985.

Four of these were fatal, with 11 people dying in total including 6 in a single crash in 2001.

The Associated Press reports that a lawyer of the lone survivor in the 2001 crash said the company's safety standards have improved since then, though he admits that the number of aircraft operating in the Grand Canyon can make flying there "treacherous."

Helicopters crash more, but you're more likely to survive it

The fact that there were four survivors from the Saturday crash might be surprising, but it shouldn't be.

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) figures reported by Slate show that helicopters do tend to crash more often than airplanes – 9,84 crashes per 100,000 hours of flight time compared to 7.28 for all aircraft (including planes, balloons, blimps and helicopters).

However, passengers on board a helicopter are more likely survive a helicopter crash than a plane crash, with the fatality rate in helicopters 1.3 deaths per 100,000 flight hours compared to 1.4 deaths per 100,000 for all aircraft.

Check out this list of Grand Canyon tour helicopter and plane crashes between 1980 and 2014, and it shows how many incidents involving helicopters didn't result in fatalities.

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