Kobe Bryant Had A Long History Of Flying In Helicopters

Kobe Bryant was killed on Jan. 26, 2020 in a helicopter crash that also killed his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, as well as other passengers who were traveling with them. What made the tragedy even more shocking is that Bryant had a long and presumably safe history of flying in helicopters.

GQ wrote about his preferred method of travel in 2010. "This is how the 31-year-old co-captain of the Lakers, the eleven-time All-Star, the four-time world champion, the most prolific and accomplished scorer currently drawing breath and an NBA paycheck, commutes," the article said. "He takes a private helicopter from Orange County, where he lives with his wife and two children, to every home game."

While GQ notes that the helicopter was "a nice dash of glitz, a touch of showbiz that [went] well with the Hollywood sign in the hazy distance," Bryant explained that "the helicopter [was] just another tool for maintaining his body. ... Given his broken finger, his fragile knees, his sore back, and achy feet, not to mention his chronic agita, Bryant [couldn't] sit in a car for two hours." Considering his commute was "49 miles from Kobe Bryant's house in Orange County to [where he played at the] Staples Center" it would have "take[n] him 10 hours and 16 minutes" to get to work in L.A. traffic, "even in a Ferrari." the magazine quipped.  By opting for the copter, the L.A. Lakers superstar could arrive "feeling fresh" and ready to play.

While the helicopter may have benefited Bryant, he also used it to fly around others as well.

Kobe Bryant used his helicopter for heartwarming reasons

Kobe Bryant's helicopter was an undeniably convenient way to get to work, but the star didn't take to the air only to get to NBA games. He also used his helicopter for heartwarming reasons that sometimes involved his family, friends, or fellow NBA pros.

In 2009, Bryant told EPSN, "Sometimes, there's just things you cannot miss." When asked for an example of something in his life that he absolutely has to be present for, he answered, "Like my daughter's soccer game. Because what if I miss her first goal?" Aw!

Bryant was also willing to offer up his helicopter to his those around him in order to help them out when they needed a quick lift. When Lakers point guard Steve Blake "suffered an abdominal strain [during practice in 2012] and could only get an appointment with an Orange County doctor in the early afternoon ... Bryant flew him there in his helicopter to avoid any irksome traffic on the 405," according to Sports Illustrated (via Business Insider.)

While there's no question that Bryant was willing to use his helicopter whenever he had a heartwarming reason, he also used it to play a prank that almost gave his former boss a heart attack.

The terrifying helicopter prank Kobe Bryant pulled on his pal

Kobe Bryant may have used his helicopter for endearing reasons, but he also used it for a hilarious prank. Although, to be honest, L.A. Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka didn't find it that funny at the time. In fact, he found it downright terrifying. 

"My life was flashing before my eyes," Pelinka told the Los Angeles Times in 2017. "I almost had a heart attack. Kobe's just sitting there calm and collected." What scared the GM so much? Apparently, Bryant decided to pull a prank mid-flight.

"Shortly after his retirement, the two set out on a helicopter ride and Bryant didn't tell Pelinka of his daredevil plan," the L.A. Times reported. "Bryant and the pilot looked at each other and Bryant nodded subtly. Suddenly, to Pelinka's horror, the helicopter zoomed into military maneuvers designed to terrify the passengers, with the coup de grace coming near the end when the pilot shut off the engine in midair." Apparently, the "helicopter floated toward the ground," and "[a]fter a few moments of thrill/panic, the pilot turned the engine back on and brought the two old friends to safety."

That sounds, er, funny? Let's just hope Pelinka had a good sense of humor about the prank, and surely all of the helpful ways Bryant used his helicopter made up for this one quirky situation.

Kobe Bryant's helicopter had a 'strong safety record'

Kobe Bryant's helicopter, a Sikorsky S-76, was marketed to "corporate executives for personal transportation, though it's also used for search and rescue missions. It typically costs around $13 million, can carry up to 12 passengers, features twin turboshaft engines, and has a range of 472 miles," reported Slate. Its design was reportedly inspired by the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk military helicopters.

Though the cause of Bryant's deadly crash remains under investigation at this time, multiple reports suggest that a mechanical problem is not suspected. One of Bryant's former pilots, Kurt Deetz, talked to the Los Angeles Times about that particular chopper. "The likelihood of a catastrophic twin engine failure on that aircraft — it just doesn't happen," he said. 

According to Business Insider, the Sikorsky S-76 has a "strong safety record." A site called FlightRadar24 indicated that Bryant's bird had been flown multiple times in recent days.

The City of Angels honors one of its 'greatest heroes'

The helicopter Kobe Bryant was traveling in at the time of the fatal crash was a 1991 Sikorsky S-76B, and according to the Los Angeles Times, it departed at 9:06 a.m. January 26, 2020 and went down shortly before 10 a.m. in a remote location with "steep terrain," igniting a brush fire at the scene. L.A. County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said "firefighters hiked into the accident site with their medical equipment and hose lines to extinguish the stubborn fire as it included the brush fire ... and the helicopter," 

The cause of the crash has not yet been determined, but multiple agencies are investigating. There's been speculation that weather, particularly severe fog, may have been a factor. Both the Los Angeles Police Department and the L.A. County Sheriff's Department had grounded their helicopters that morning due to weather conditions and low visibility, according to the L.A. Times

As the investigation continues, fans everywhere are searching for ways and words to honor the athlete. L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti referred to Bryant as one of the city's "greatest heroes." In fact, one Twitter user shared a touching moment at a flower shop in the city: "Bought flowers to bring to staples center. When the florist saw that I wanted purple and yellow she asked, 'for Kobe?' I nodded. When she finished I asked what I owed her. she shook her head, handed me the flowers and said 'it's LA'. I almost cried. LAs love for Kobe is powerful."