Island Express Helicopters owned the aircraft Kobe Bryant and eight others were on when it crashed in Calabasas, California on Sunday

By Gabrielle Chung
January 30, 2020 08:05 PM
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Island Express Helicopters — the company that owned the aircraft Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven other passengers were on when it crashed in Calabasas, California on Sunday — has temporarily suspended its operations in the wake of the tragic incident.

A representative for the Long Beach-based company told PEOPLE on Thursday that Island Express Helicopter has suspended flight services for Thursday and Friday.

The company, which charters flights as well as transportation services to and from Catalina Island, will reach out to its clients should they continue to suspend their operations past those dates, the spokesperson said.

Bryant, 41, and his daughter Gianna, 13, were reportedly on their way to a youth basketball game in Thousand Oaks with parents and players from the Mamba Sports Academy girls’ team when the Sikorsky S-76B helicopter they were on crashed into a hill. The two died alongside pilot Ara Zobayan, Sarah and Payton Chester, Christina Mauser, John Altobelli, his wife Keri Altobelli and their daughter, Alyssa Altobelli.

Crash site
| Credit: David McNew/Getty Images

“We are deeply saddened by this tragedy. 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,” Island Express Helicopters said in a statement at the time. “We are working closely with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to investigate the cause of the accident and we are grateful to the first responders and local authorities for their response to this unimaginable accident.”

During a press conference on Tuesday, the National Transportation Safety Board said the helicopter could have potentially avoided the hill had it been flying 20 to 30 feet higher.

However, NTSB investigator Bill English also noted that there were still surrounding hills that would have required an even higher altitude for clearance.

“It’s important to realize that there’s not one hill,” English said. “It’s a ravine with undulating terrain, so the small outcropping that had the main impact in it, the main impact was about 20 to 30 feet from the top of that small hill. But there are actually other higher hills surrounding it.”

RELATED VIDEO: Kobe Bryant’s Helicopter Plunged 2,000 Ft. Per Minute in ‘High Energy Impact’ Crash

According to the federal agency, the aircraft — which had been flying in extremely foggy conditions — plunged over “2,000 feet per minute” before crashing into a mountain, in what the NTSB described as a “high-energy impact crash.”

Investigators said the helicopter was not equipped with a terrain awareness and warning system (TAWS), a cockpit voice recorder (CVR), flight data recorders (FDR) or black boxes — tools they believe could have helped the pilot during the flight.

Bryant — who is survived by wife Vanessa, 37, and their daughters Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and Capri, 7 months — previously shared he began using helicopters while he still played for the Los Angeles Lakers as a way to spend more time with his family.

“I was sitting in traffic and I wound up missing like a school play,” he told Alex Rodriguez in a 2018 interview. “I had to figure out a way where I could still train and focus on the craft but still not compromise family time.”

“So that’s when I looked into helicopters, to be able to get down and back in 15 minutes and that’s when it started,” he added at the time.

If you would like to help the families of the victims of the crash, consider donating to the Mamba on Three Fund. Donations to the Mamba Sports Foundation will help support youth sports.