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Kobe Bryant fatal crash in Lockheed Martin's Sikorsky helicopter runs counter to safety record

Brittany De Lea

NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his 13-year old daughter were among nine victims in a fatal helicopter crash in California over the weekend, which involved a Lockheed Martin aircraft.

On Monday it was revealed that – despite difficult flying conditions including thick fog – the helicopter carrying the passengers had received special permission to fly. The investigation into the cause of the crash is ongoing.

The Lockheed Martin helicopter – known as a Sikorsky S-76 – has been in use worldwide since 1977, according to the company. More than 875 S-76 aircraft have been delivered.

In response to the tragic event, a spokesperson for the company said it stands ready to cooperate with authorities.

“We extend our sincerest condolences to all those affected by yesterday’s Sikorsky S-76B accident in Calabasas, California,” the spokesperson said. “We have been in contact with the NTSB and stand ready to provide assistance and support to the investigative authorities and our customer. Safety is our top priority; if there are any actionable findings from the investigation, we will inform our S-76 customers.”

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The helicopter is often used for a variety of purposes, including life-saving missions like search and rescue and air ambulance transportation.

But it is also known as a means of transportation for celebrities and other high-profile individuals.

“The S-76 is well-known for its work in VIP transportation and utility work,” Lockheed Martin said in a statement. “More than 178 customers operate S-76 helicopters in a Corporate or VIP role. Ten countries rely on the S-76 for the Head of State mission.”

The aerospace and defense company said the S-76 has completed 7.4 million hours of safe and successful flights. The S-76D is the latest variant of the aircraft.

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Despite its strong safety record, there have been crashes involving the aircraft. There was a fatal crash, for example, in Ontario, Canada, in 2013 during an ambulatory mission. Four people were killed. The cause of that crash, however, was ultimately believed to be improperly pilot training for night flight.

More recently, in 2017, an S-76 crash carrying Turkish businessmen resulted in seven fatalities after the plane hit a tower shortly after taking off.

Shares of Lockheed Martin were trading slightly lower during Monday’s trading session amid a down day in the market overall.

In addition to Bryant and his daughter, a basketball coach at Orange Coast College and his wife and daughter were killed. The group was said to be traveling to basketball practice in Thousand Oaks, California.

Bryant had been known to use a private helicopter to travel around the state, even taking it to the Staples Center for games during his memorable career in the NBA.

Bryant's Sikorsky 76-B according to the NTSB database does not indicate any other accidents associated with that tail number. The helicopter database, Heils.com, shows the vehicle was owned by a company named Island Express Holding Corp. and had previously belonged to the state of Illinois which sold the chopper at an auction in 2015 for $515,000.

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