Kobe Bryant's Sikorsky S-76B Helicopter Had a Strong Safety Record, Is From Same Series Used by Queen Elizabeth II

The helicopter from the fatal crash in the Southern Californian city of Calabasas, which saw the death of Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter and seven others, was a Sikorsky S-76B model, according to the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) official registry, and reportedly had a strong safety record during its more than 40 years in service.

The helicopter departed from John Wayne Airport in Orange County and reached around 2,000 feet above sea level before it crashed into a steep hillside at about 1,400 feet in Calabasas. It was said to have been descending at a speed of around 4,000 feet per minute, according to data from Flightradar 24.

Air traffic controllers were reported to have noted poor visibility near Burbank and Van Nuys, the areas just north and northwest of the departure point, according to the Associated Press. But it is has yet to be confirmed whether weather was a factor in the crash, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office and Police Department noted, USA Today reports.

Built in 1991, the helicopter in the latest incident was a 12-seat, S-76B model owned by the state of Illinois between 2007 and 2015 before it was sold to the Island Express Holding Corporation which has operated it from September 2015, according to the Helis.com helicopter database.

Bryant was said to have traveled regularly in the S-76B from his home in Orange County to his games at the Staples Center in Los Angeles due to health issues including fragile knees, sore back and chronic agita which prevented him from sitting in a car for two hours, GQ reported back in 2010.

Manufactured by Lockheed Martin, the world's largest defense contractor which is currently contracted to build NASA's new "quiet" supersonic jet, Sikorsky S-76 helicopters are said to be more robust than other civilian helicopters, made with twin turboshaft engines (which are said to be among the reasons for its strong safety record) and built according to stricter requirements than other civilian helicopters, Business Insider reports.

Speaking to Forbes, former U.K. Royal Air Force helicopter pilot and defense consultant Paul Kennard said that helicopters don't undergo as much stress as pressurized aircraft, and the age of the S-76B would not raise any safety concerns provided it was well maintained. It is gathered to have been around 29 years old, having clocked about 188 hours a year, according to Helis.com.

The S-76 series has been used mostly for corporate transportation and by VIP passengers including Queen Elizabeth II, who has traveled in a S-76C+ model from 1998 and was upgraded to the S-76C++ model from 2009.

Back in 2017, a S-76C++ helicopter crash in Istanbul, Turkey saw the death of all seven on board the aircraft just minutes after departing Istanbul's Atatürk Airport. Fog or low cloud base could have been a contributing factor in the accident, according to the Aviation Safety Network.

The cause of Bryant's crash has yet to be determined. The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will be investigating the case. No further information regarding the investigation has been released.

#FAA statement on the helicopter accident near Calabasas, California. pic.twitter.com/99px31BvfF

— The FAA ✈️ (@FAANews) January 26, 2020

"A Sikorsky S-76 helicopter crashed this morning [Sunday] under unknown circumstances near Calabasas, California," the FAA stated.

"Neither the FAA nor the NTSB identifies people involved in aircraft accidents. The FAA and the NTSB will investigate.

"The NTSB will release further information going forward," a spokesperson for the FAA told Newsweek.

Helicopter Association International (HAI) told Newsweek in a statement: "Helicopter Association International expresses our deepest sympathies to the families, friends, and coworkers of those lost in today's crash. HAI's official policy is to refrain from commenting on any accident until authorities complete their investigation."

The NTSB noted in a post on its official Twitter account: "NTSB launching Go Team to investigate the Jan. 26, 2020 crash of a Sikorsky S-76B helicopter in Calabasas, CA. The team is expected to arrive in California this evening [Sunday]."

The NTSB's investigation will entail looking into the pilot's history, the helicopter's maintenance history, as well as the records of its owner and operator, NTSB board member Jennifer Homendy said at a news conference, AP reports.

NTSB launching Go Team to investigate the Jan. 26, 2020 crash of a Sikorsky
S-76B helicopter in Calabasas, CA. The team is expected to arrive in California this evening.

— NTSB_Newsroom (@NTSB_Newsroom) January 26, 2020

Lockheed Martin has also released a statement saying: "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. Safety is our top priority; if there are any actionable findings from the investigation, we will inform our S-76 customers."

Newsweek has contacted the International Helicopter Safety Foundation for further comment on the latest incident.

The rate of fatal accidents for helicopters in the U.S. in 2019 was around 0.83 per 100,000 flight hours, according to the latest data from the U.S. Helicopter Safety Team, with 24 accidents that saw 55 fatalities, Forbes reports.

This article has been updated with comment from Helicopter Association International.

Queen Elizabeth II helicopter Sikorsky S-76
Queen Elizabeth II leaving the royal flight helicopter Sikorsky S-76 during her royal tour of The Channel Islands. Getty Images