*Legendary basketball star Kobe Bryant was with eight others in his private helicopter, a Sikorsky S-76B — a model with a strong safety record — when it crashed in Calabasas, California, on January 26.
His daughter Gianna, 13, was also on board the aircraft during the tragic accident amid foggy conditions.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said nine people were on the copter — a pilot and eight passengers.
The recovery effort is expected to take several days because of the condition of the crash site and its remote location.
Meanwhile, more details are being reported about Bryant’s Sikorsky S-76B helicopter, which he used to avoid traffic between his Orange County home and Los Angeles. According to a GQ profile in 2010, Bryant used the helicopter to fly from his home in to Lakers home games and elsewhere.
“But sexy as it might seem, Bryant says the helicopter is just another tool for maintaining his body. It’s no different than his weights or his whirlpool tubs or his custom-made Nikes. 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.”
According to Business Insider, the Sikorsky S-76 has had a good safety record since its first flight in 1977.
The first Sikorsky helicopter was designed for commercial use and its design was inspired by the UH-60 Black Hawk military helicopter, the outlet reprots.
The S-76 was first designed for corporate transportation, especially within the oil industry. Over the years, it has commonly been used for medical transportation.
Bryant’s specific helicopter — registration N72EX — was built in 1991. According to FAA records, it was owned by Island Express Holding Corp.
Authorities are still investigating potential causes of the crash, but overcast skies and fog conditions might have played a role.
“We do know there was an issue with visibility and a low ceiling,” Villanueva said Sunday evening. “The actual conditions at the time of impact, that is still yet to be determined.”
According to TMZ, “flight tracker data shows Kobe’s chopper appeared to first encounter weather issues as it was above the L.A. Zoo. It circled that area at least 6 times at a very low altitude — around 875 feet — perhaps waiting for the fog to clear,” the outlet writes.
The pilot contacted the control tower at Burbank Airport around 9:30 AM PT, and the tower was aware the pilot had been circling for about 15 minutes. The pilot eventually headed north along the 118 freeway before turning to the west, and started following above the 101 freeway around Woodland Hills, CA.
At around 9:40 AM they encounter more weather — as in seriously heavy fog — and the chopper turned south. This was critical, because they turned toward a mountainous area. The pilot suddenly and rapidly climbed from about 1200 feet up to 2000 feet.
However, moments later — around 9:45 AM — they flew into a mountain at 1700 feet. Flight tracker data shows they were flying at about 161 knots.
The Federal Aviation Administration said it would investigate the crash.