Island Express Helicopters Inc., the California-based charter company involved in Sunday’s crash that killed retired basketball star Kobe Bryant, has been involved in four previous crashes over the past 35 years, two of them fatal, according to government records.
While the company hasn’t had an accident since 2008, it was cited in 2016 for failure to perform mandatory drug testing on its employees and was fined $8,500, Federal Aviation Administration records show. The company had also been cited for several more minor issues, though most were prior to 2000.
The company’s Sikorsky S-76B helicopter carrying Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter and seven others, made an abrupt descent and slammed into a hillside in Calabasas, California, Sunday morning. Everyone aboard died in the crash.
There’s no indication that the prior crashes or enforcement cases were related to Sunday’s accident. The pilot was flying in foggy conditions and had notified an air-traffic controller he was climbing to avoid a cloud layer moments before the crash.
Attempts to reach company representatives for comment were unsuccessful. The company’s phone system wasn’t allowing voice messages and an email address was no longer active.
“We are deeply saddened by this tragedy,” the company said in a statement Monday night. “Our top priority is providing assistance to the families of the passengers and the pilot. We hope that you will respect their privacy at this extremely difficult time.”
Among the dead, was Ara Zobayan, who was the company’s chief pilot, the company said in the statement. He had worked for the company for more than 10 years and had over 8,000 flight hours, it said.
There were no records of Zobayan violating federal rules, according to the FAA.
Three people were killed and three others were seriously injured on May 24, 2008, when an Island Express helicopter’s engine failed and it made an emergency landing on Catalina Island off the coast of Los Angeles, according to National Transportation Safety Board records.
The crash was caused by a fracture in a fan blade in the engine, the NTSB concluded.
A pilot and five passengers on an Island Express helicopter were injured on Nov. 30, 1985, when it collided in flight with a second helicopter in San Pedro, California. A passenger in the other helicopter died in the crash, according to the NTSB. Investigators cited pilots on both aircraft for failing to see each other.
On Dec. 28, 1999, an Island Express helicopter rolled over during an emergency landing on Catalina Island after losing power. One passenger was seriously injured, while the pilot and five other passengers received minor injuries, according to the NTSB records.
One of the company’s helicopters lost engine power over the ocean on July 20, 1989. The pilot and five passengers weren’t injured, NTSB said.
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