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As The World of Basketball Mourns Kobe Bryant, What Are Ten Worst Helicopter Crashes in History?

© REUTERS / Lucy NicholsonLakers guard Kobe Bryant n Los Angeles
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant n Los Angeles - Sputnik International
Sports stars, politicians and celebrities have been queuing up to pay tribute to basketball star Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash at the weekend. Helicopters have a generally good safety record but when they crash there are rarely any survivors.

NBA star Kobe Bryant, 41, and his daughter Gianna, 13, were among nine people killed when a Sikorsky C-76 helicopter crashes in Calabasas, near Los Angeles, on Sunday, 26 January.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva, of Los Angeles County, said the cause of the crash was not known but a full investigation will be launched by the National Transportation Safety Board.

There have been hundreds of helicopters crashes since they were first invented but here are some of the most high profile incidents.

Leicester City Football Stadium - 2018

In October 2018 the Thai billionaire owner of English Premier League side Leicester City, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, was killed when his helicopter crashed in the car park outside the club’s King Power Stadium following a match.

Srivaddhanaprabha, 60, had just watched his team draw 1-1 with West Ham.

​The crash also claimed the lives of two of his employees  - Nursara Suknamai and Kaveporn Punpare — pilot Eric Swaffer and his Polish girlfriend Izabela Lechowicz.

In December 2018 the Air Accidents Investigation Branch said the pedals in the cockpit of the Agusta Westland AW169 had disconnected from the tail rotor, causing it to spin out of control.

In September 2019 Ms Suknamai’s family sued Leicester City for 300 million baht (£8 million) in damages.

Hai Lang Forest Disaster - 1968

The US Army and Marine Corps used helicopters a great deal during the Vietnam war and the Viet Cong never purchased surface-to-air missiles which could have threatened American air superiority.

But on 8 January 1968 a Sikorsky CH-53A Sea Stallion, operated by the US Marine Corps, crashed in the Hai Long Forest during bad weather.

​It took ten days to discover the wreckage deep in the jungle and none of the 46 people on board survived.

Most of the dead were buried at the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St Louis, Missouri.

Vauxhall, London - 2013

In January 2013 an another Agusta helicopter — this time an AW109 — crashed into the street in Vauxhall, south London, after clipping a crane at St. George Wharf just before 8am.

​Miraculously the only people to be killed were the pilot Peter Barnes, 50, and  Matthew Wood, 39, who was killed by the falling helicopter as he walked in the street below during the morning rush hour.

Twelve people were injured by debris but the death toll would have been so much higher if the Italian-made chopper had hit a building or a double decker bus.

An inquest jury in 2015 blamed Mr. Barnes for the crash and said he should not have taken off when freezing fog had made visibility so poor over London. But the jury said they felt like he was under "commercial pressure".

Mr. Barnes had been flying from Redhill in Surrey to Elstree in Hertfordshire but was diverted to Battersea heliport.

The Air Accident Investigation Branch gave evidence that Mr. Barnes must have experienced a "loss of situational awareness" which caused him to clip the crane.

The company which owned the helicopter, RotorMotion, went out of business.

Matthew Harding - 1996

Pilot error was also to blame for the death of another football club tycoon in October 1996.

Matthew Harding had invested £26.5 million (US$34 million) in Chelsea Football Club since 1993 and was the vice-chairman under long-time owner Ken Bates, who clashed with him in the boardroom.

​The Twin Squirrel helicopter came down in a farmer's field in Cheshire and burst into flames after picking up Mr. Harding, 42, and his friends from a cup tie at Bolton Wanderers on a midweek evening.

Chief air accident investigator Michael Charles told the inquest in 1998 the pilot Michael Goss, who had flown helicopters in the British Army, was trying to do "more than was achievable" in trying to fly single-handed in poor visibility in a helicopter without autopilot and while trying to talk to air traffic control.

The inquest a cockpit recording of the moments before the crash.

"Yeah, I'm looking for vectors for an ILS (instrument landing)… I think I'm in a descent at the moment… hold on," said Mr. Goss seconds before the crash.

The crash also killed businessmen Tony Burridge, 39, and Raymond Deane, 43, and magazine journalist John Bauldie, 47.

New regulations were later introduced which would require helicopters who were flying alone to have their craft fitted with autopilots or stabilization devices for night flights.

After the crash the rebuilt north side of Chelsea's Stamford Bridge stadium was renamed the Matthew Harding Stand when it was opened in August 1996.

Bates would sell the club to Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich in 2003.

Israeli Military Crashes - 1977 and 1997

The Israeli Defense Force's worst losses in a single day have both involved helicopters.

In May 1977 an Israeli-made Yas'ur CH-53 Sea Stallion carrying 44 paratroopers and 10 airmen crashed shortly after take off in the northern Jordan Valley, killing everyone on board.

A memorial was later erected on the "Hill of the 54" near Yitav.

​Committees of inquiry blamed both mechanical failures and faulty instructions issued to the pilot, who had overloaded the craft.

The Sea Stallion was not supposed to carry more than 37 passengers.  

In 1997 two Yas'ur helicopters crashed in mid-air over northern Israel, killing all 73 service personnel on board.

"On February 4, 1997, the skies and the ground shook. Everyone old enough at the time will never forget that earth-shattering night, that terrible flight — a flight without survivors," President Reuven Rivlin said at a ceremony to remember the dead last year.

Alexander Lebed - 2002

In April 2002 a Mil Mi-8 helicopter which was being flown by Russian politician and former general Alexander Lebed crashed after flying into overhead power cables.

General Lebed, a veteran of the Afghan conflict, came third in the 1996 Russian presidential election, with 14.5 percent of the vote nationwide.

​He later served as Secretary of the Security Council under President Boris Yeltsin and was governor of the huge Krasnoyarsk region at the time of his death.

A parliamentary deputy, Alexei Arbatov, said it was possible sabotage was responsible for the crash and he claimed General Lebed had made powerful enemies in Krasnoyarsk.

But President Vladimir Putin ordered a full investigate of the crash, which blamed thick fog.

Mull of Kintyre - 1994

On the night of June 2, 1994 an RAF Chinook helicopter crashed into a hillside on the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland, killed all 29 people on board.

​It was the worst single loss of life by the RAF since the Second World War.

On board were 25 of Britain's most senior counter-terrorism experts, who included many British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary officers who were involved in the "dirty war" against the IRA in Northern Ireland.

In the aftermath of the crash two RAF air marshals accused the dead pilots, Flight Lieutenants Jonathan Tapper and Richard Cook, of gross negligence.

But a fresh review found they were blameless and in 2011 then Defence Secretary Liam Fox apologised to the dead men's families.

The review found technical problems were probably to blame for the crash but there was a conspiracy theory suggesting the IRA — who declared a ceasefire two months later — were responsible or even dark figures within the establishment who feared the counter-terrorist experts would try to block a peace deal with Sinn Fein.

John Garang - 2005

For 22 years John Garang had led the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army, which fought for the mainly Christian and animist south of the giant country to be independent of the Muslim-dominated government in Khartoum.

A peace agreement was signed on July 9, 2005 and three weeks later Dr. Garang — who had been made Vice President of Sudan — was killed in a helicopter crash as he returned from a meeting with Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni.

​The Russian-made Mil Mi-172 reportedly crashed due to bad weather in southern Sudan although conspiracy theories abounded.

Salva Kiir took over as leader of the SPLA and became the first President of South Sudan when it became independent in 2011 but two years later civil war broke out between Kiir's Dinka-led government and the opposition SPLM, which is led by Riek Machar, from the rival Nuer tribe.

Gary Powers - 1977

Gary Powers hit the headlines in 1960 when his U-2 spy plane was shot down as it flew 70,000 feet above the city of Sverdlovsk in the Soviet Union and he was captured by the KGB.

The Cold War was raging and his capture was a major coup by the Soviets, who held him as a bargaining tool much to American discomfort.

​The CIA and the US government concocted a bogus story claiming Powers had been studying weather patterns for NASA and has strayed off course and they even showed off to the media a fake U-2 plane painted with the space agency’s logo.

Powers was put on trial and convicted by the Soviets but in 1962 he was swapped for a Soviet intelligence officer, Rudolf Abel, who had been convicted of spying in the US.

The exchange, in Berlin, was portrayed in the Tom Hanks film Bridge Of Spies.

In August 1977 Powers hit the headlines again.

Powers, who had left the US Air Force and got a job flying helicopters for KNBC-TV news in Los Angeles, was returning from covering bushfires in the interior when he ran out of fuel and crashed near Encino. A KNBC cameraman, George Spears, also died.

Powers, who was 47, was buried in Arlington National Cemetery and his gravestone reads: Francis Gary Powers, Capt US Air Force, Korea, Aug 17 1929 - Aug 1 1977.  

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