Kobe Bryant was with eight others, including his 13-year-old daughter GiGi, in his private helicopter, a Sikorsky S-76B, when they plunged to their death in Calabasas, California on Sunday.
He was 41.
The Sikorsky was a model with a strong safety record and a reputation for serving as a reliable VIP and corporate transport.
Its large cabin is especially geared towards comfortable configurations, coupled with its relative safety and strong performance parameters. Even Queen Elizabeth II has been flown in a Sikorsky S-76.
Bryant’s use of the “Kobe-Copter” to avoid traffic between his Orange County home and Los Angeles was famous. He offered it to help teammates get to doctors’ appointments.
According to a GQ Magazine profile in 2010, the five-time NBA champion took advantage of the helicopter to help stay fit for games.
“Given his broken finger, his fragile knees, his sore back and achy feet, not to mention his chronic agita, Bryant can’t sit in a car for two hours. The helicopter, therefore, ensures that he gets to Staples Center feeling fresh, that his body is warm and loose and fluid as mercury when he steps onto the court,” the story read.
In a 2009 ESPN article, Bryant admitted that he liked to charter a chopper to travel the 49 miles from his home to the Lakers homecourt.
“Sometimes, there’s just things you cannot miss,” said Bryant. “Like my daughter’s soccer game. Because what if I miss her first goal?”
In statements, the Federal Aviation Administration said it would investigate the crash and the National Transportation Safety Board said it had a team responding to the crash site.
The ill-fated helicopter — registration N72EX — was built in 1991. According to FAA records, it was owned by Island Express Holding Corp., a private helicopter transport company. It was not immediately clear whether Bryant chartered the helicopter or leased it full-time.
The S-76 was first designed as a medium helicopter for corporate transportation, especially within the oil industry, where executives were traveling between land and off-shore drilling platforms.
The first Sikorsky helicopter was designed for commercial use but took design inspiration from the UH-60 Black Hawk military helicopter. It found a niche in numerous roles over the years, including medical transportation.
The helicopter Bryant was in was first introduced in 1987. It featured twin turboshaft engines which drive one four-bladed main rotor and a four-bladed tail rotor.
Its safety record has been largely attributed to its twin-turbine design, along with more rigorous training standards than some other civilian models, and the fact that it’s frequently flown by two pilots, unlike most light helicopters.
The pilot, 50-year-old Ara Zobayan, was warned he was “too low” moments before the aircraft crashed.
Audio between the pilot and air traffic control revealed that air traffic controllers were attempting to guide the helicopter, but lost contact moments before its fatal fall.
Conditions were a problem with limited visibility due to heavy fog in southern California, and the pilot was heard talking with air traffic controllers about this in the audio.
“You’re too low,” the pilot was told just before the crash.
Experts said it didn’t mean the helicopter was actually too low or near the ground. In fact, it was ascending at the time of the warning.
“Too low” means an air traffic controller is no longer able to provide guidance because it cannot get a good enough read of the radar. (Business Insider, The Sun, PM News Nigeria, Heavy.com)