When Kobe Bryant passed away on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020, along with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven other victims, fans were shocked to learn that the group had died in a helicopter accident. The former NBA star had a history of using the quick mode of transportation without incident. However, his final ride would be a tragic one. And Bryant isn’t the only beloved celebrity to die in a helicopter crash.
While “[y]ou’re far more likely to get in a serious car accident than you are to be killed or injured while riding in a helicopter,” according to MarketWatch, that’s merely because people use cars more often than helicopters. However, according to “aviation experts”, the “uptick in private helicopter usage could make traveling the skies more dangerous.”
MarketWatch took a look at numbers from the National Transportation Safety Board and found that “[b]etween 1990 and 2019, there were 5,098 accidents or serious incidents involving helicopters in the United States. Of these, 907 (or 17.8%) involved fatalities.” The article also notes that, in the last decade alone, almost 400 people have been killed in helicopter accidents.
With celebrities having the means to buy or hire helicopters, quite a few well-known figures have been among those who have died in helicopter accidents, including the following celebrities that we’ve sadly lost.
Stevie Ray Vaughan's brother will 'never get over' his death
“Stevie Ray Vaughan, one of the nation’s top blues guitarists, and four other people were killed in a helicopter crash … after a performance with Eric Clapton at an outdoor theater,” The New York Times reported on Aug. 28, 1990, a day after the musician died at just 35-years-old. While Clapton avoided the tragedy by taking another flight, three members of his “entourage” were killed along with the pilot when the helicopter that they were in “crashed into a hill shortly after midnight after taking off in dense fog.” The NYT noted that “[t]hose killed were Bobby Brooks, Mr. Clapton’s agent; Nigel Browne, his bodyguard; Colin Smythe, one of his tour managers; and the pilot, Jeffrey Brown.”
While speaking at an event for Vaughan’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015, his older brother, Jimmie Vaughan, talked about the legend, saying, “He was my little brother. Anybody who has a little brother or little sister knows what that means. I know he was a great musician, and I know people love his music and think about him that way, but I miss my little brother. I’ll never get over it. The whole thing still doesn’t seem real (via The Dallas Morning News).” Sadly, that unreal feeling is something the families of the stars mentioned here might be able to relate to.
Troy Gentry died during a 'spur of the moment' helicopter ride
On Sept. 8, 2017, country music star Troy Gentry died in a helicopter crash during a “spur of the moment” tour of Medford, N.J., just hours before he was set to perform with his band, Montgomery Gentry. The singer and guitarist, who was 50-years-old at the time of his death, “[left] behind wife Angie and daughters Kaylee and Taylor,” according to People magazine.
Soon after the accident occurred, Gentry’s band took to Twitter to address the news in a statement that read: “It is with great sadness that we confirm that Troy Gentry, half of the popular country duo, Montgomery Gentry, was tragically killed in a helicopter crash which took place at approximately 1:00 p.m. today in Medford, New Jersey.” After acknowledging that details of the crash were unknown at the time and asking for privacy, the statement continued, “Troy Gentry’s family wishes to acknowledge all of the kind thoughts and prayers.”
Stars also took to social media to express their grief. Singer Sheryl Crow wrote, “So sad to hear the news of Troy Gentry. My prayers are with his family and friends.” Blake Shelton posted a picture of himself onstage with Gentry along with the caption, “Found this picture of me and my old friend Troy a few days ago. I am heart broken.”
A helicopter crash in Scotland killed rally driver Colin McRae
The world was also left heartbroken when rally driver and champion Colin McRae died on Sept. 15, 2007, in a helicopter crash that took place in Lanark, Scotland — not far from where he lived with his family. McCrae’s five-year-old son, Johnny, was with his father on the flight and also passed away, as did their fellow passengers, Graeme Duncan, and a friend of Johnny’s, six-year-old Ben Porcelli.
“The Twin Squirrel helicopter registered to the former world champion rally driver came down shortly after 4pm … about 200 yards from his 17th-century mansion,” according to The Scotsman. “Police sources said the blue helicopter used by the 39-year-old multi-millionaire had exploded in a ‘fireball.'” The report also noted that the star’s agent “confirmed McRae had been piloting the helicopter” and that “[w]eather conditions at the time were deteriorating with strengthening winds and light rain.”
An area resident, David Lowry, witnessed the tragedy and explained that McRae’s passing would “have an unbelievable effect on the local community.” He added that “Colin [was] a very popular person around” the location where he had been born and raised.
Sadly, McCrae wasn’t the only popular driver who has been lost in a helicopter crash.
Davey Allison owned his helicopter for less than a month when he crashed
The racing world lost another figure on Jul. 12, 1993, when NASCAR driver Davey Allison (pictured in the black and white photo above) was killed in a helicopter crash while attempting to land in a parking lot at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama. Allison was flying the craft, which he had owned for less than a month, and traveling along with veteran race car driver Red Farmer, who survived the crash after an extensive recovery.
“A federal investigation of a helicopter accident that killed NASCAR driver Davey Allison found he had less than three hours of training on the chopper he crashed at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama last July,” AP News reported in 1994. “Although Allison had logged 54 hours total flight time in helicopters, he’d had only 2.8 hours of instruction in the Hughes 369HS helicopter before the accident last July 12, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.” AP also noted that “Allison was trying to land downwind — the opposite of a normal aircraft landing” which was not something he had been trained to do, according to his flight instructor John Corley.
Farmer recalled the tragedy which saw the helicopter “suddenly [rise] and [begin] to spin out of control,” saying, “I saw sky. I saw ground, and I said, ‘Hold it, Davey.'” Unfortunately, Allison wasn’t able to handle the landing and passed away due to head injuries that he suffered during the crash.
Air crashes have taken the lives of other famous figures
Flying is a quick, easy, and sometimes necessary way for celebrities to travel, but it can also be deadly. “Air crashes have killed several prominent rock performers over the years, including Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, Otis Redding, Jim Croce, and Rick Nelson,” per The New York Times. In later years, John F. Kennedy Jr. was killed along with his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and her sister, Lauren Bessette, when his plane went down on July 16, 1999. That was just a couple of years before R&B singer Aaliyah died in a crash on Aug. 25, 2001.
And helicopter accidents can be just as fatal, taking the lives of French singer Daniel Balavoine, Australian star Shirley Strachan, “legendary” concert promoter Bill Graham, and Sudanese leader John Garang. And they’re not the only ones.
On Jul. 23, 1982, “[a]ctor Vic Morrow, star of the ABC series Combat!, and child actors Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen were killed on the ground when a helicopter crashed into them on the set of Twilight Zone: The Movie in Indian Dunes, California,” according to NBC Washington. And on Oct. 27, 2018, “Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, … the owner of the Leicester City soccer club … died along with four other people when their helicopter crashed shortly after takeoff from the team’s King Power Stadium in Leicester, England.”
While air crashes have tragically killed countless celebrities, helicopter and plane accidents aren’t the only unfortunate ways we’ve lost beloved celebs over the years.
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