The True Story behind the Chopper that crashed with Kobe Byrant Onboard

The True Story behind the Chopper that crashed with Kobe Byrant Onboard

When Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others were killed in a fiery helicopter crash Sunday, they were passengers in a luxury vehicle dating to the George H.W. Bush administration.

The chopper, a twin-engine Sikorsky S-76, was a roughly $13 million model marketed  as an “executive helicopter” for personal travel, catering to “corporate executives and heads of state.” A brochure for a more recent model of the aircraft boasts “safe, reliable flight in all weather situations,” and describes its demographic as “the few who have reached the pinnacle of success.”

But according to the Federal Aviation Administration aircraft registry, the particular vehicle in question spent most of its operating life far from the city in which Bryant became a basketball legend. Built-in 1991, the chopper was owned by the state of Illinois from 2007 to 2015, when it was sold for $515,161 to a user named Jim Bagge, as the Chicago Daily Herald reported. Jim Bagge is the name of an executive at Island Express Holding Corp., the helicopter operator to whom Bryant’s chopper was licensed, according to business records filed with the California Secretary of State in 2012. At the time of the sale, the helicopter’s two engines had a combined 3952 hours of airframe, according to the helicopter database Helis.


At a press conference Sunday, representatives for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced that they had sent 18 personnel to the crash site outside Calabasas, California to investigate the accident. Jennifer Homendy, an NTSB representative, said the team would look into the maintenance records, the pilot’s background, and the helicopter’s owner and operator.


Representatives of Island Express Holding Corp—including their presidents, Bagge and Philip DiFiore and and their general counsel, Teri Neville—did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Island Express also appeared to have taken down its website and social media profiles some time after the crash.


The helicopter manufacturer, Sikorsky, a subsidiary of military contractor Lockheed Martin, wrote in a tweet that the company intended to cooperate with the NTSB investigation. “We extend our sincerest condolences to all those affected by today’s Sikorsky S-76B accident in Calabasas, California. We have been in contact with the NTSB and stand ready to provide assistance and support to the investigative authorities and our customer,” the company wrote. “Safety is our top priority; if there are any actionable findings from the investigation, we will inform our S-76 customers.”


In September, soap opera actor and pilot Lorenza Lamas posted a picture with a helicopter bearing the same N-number, or a registration number given to aircraft, as the one that crashed Sunday with the caption, “Sun setting on another glorious day. Life is a mirror and will reflect back to the thinker what he thinks into it – Ernest Holmes.” Lamas also appeared to tweet that he was safe after the crash, before the post in question was deleted. He did not immediately respond to requests for comment.


On January 23, Lamas tweeted another picture of a helicopter, this one captioned, “Pilot Life. Catalina Island.” The former soap star was apparently referencing a popular tourist destination off the coast of Los Angeles, with whom Island Express Holding Corporation has contracted to conduct helicopter tours since 1982, according to archived images from their website.

The pilot of Sunday’s flight had not been publicly identified at the time of publication.


In 2008, another one of the family-run business’ aircraft, this one a Eurocopter AS 350, crashed during rainy weather on the west side of Catalina Island, the Daily News of Los Angeles reported at the time.


The crash ignited a brush fire upon impact, killing two men and one woman on board and leaving three others in critical condition. An FAA and NTSB investigation said the cause of the crash appeared to be engine failure, according to the Associated Press.


The Federal Aviation Administration was also investigating Sunday’s crash, and representatives from the agency did not immediately respond to requests for comment.


Culled from The Daily Beast…

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