Families, friends mourn deaths of Americans killed in Kenya helicopter crash

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A prominent Colorado political consultant and two entrepreneurs from California were among four Americans and a local pilot killed when their helicopter crashed at a national park in Kenya, authorities and family members said Monday.

Colorado lawmakers paused for a moment of silence at the state Capitol in Denver to remember Kyle Forti, who died in the crash Sunday night at an island on Kenya’s Lake Turkana.

Family and friends remembered Forti as an adventurer and loving husband and father, who made friends of all political stripes during several years of work as a Republican communications consultant.

Forti’s brother, Josh Forti, said the 29-year-old is the oldest of eight siblings. Forti loved to travel and was visiting friends in Kenya when he died, Josh Forti said.

“Kyle is known for being someone of integrity, someone who searched for truth, provided love and brought people together,” Josh Forti said. “Right now we’re grieving. But we trust God and trust that God’s in control here. We know Kyle is in paradise.”

The family does not have much information about the incident beyond what has been publicly released, Josh Forti said.

The crash occurred in Central Island National Park as two helicopters took off after a visit to the Lobolo tented camp, according to an internal police report obtained by The Associated Press.

One helicopter lost contact and crashed soon after takeoff around 8:30 p.m., Kenya’s Civil Aviation Authority said in a statement. A search and rescue mission found the wreckage shortly after 3 a.m. Monday, the agency said. The cause of the crash was under investigation.

The U.S. Embassy confirmed the deaths of the four Americans and the names of three of them: Forti, Anders Asher Jesiah Burke and Brandon Howe Stapper.

The embassy referred further questions to Kenyan authorities. The name of the pilot wasn’t immediately released.

Stapper, a businessman and investor based in Southern California, founded several companies, including a graphics firm where his employees considered him a role model, a co-worker said.

“The expression ‘one in a billion’ really applies to him,” Cole Canedy, an executive at San Diego’s 858 Graphics, said in a statement. “I looked up to him like an older brother; the way he ran his company, the way he treated people, and the way he loved those around him.”

Stapper and Burke were close friends, according to family members. SanDiego.com listed both men among the city’s “Top 10 Entrepreneurs To Watch” in 2015 when Stapper was 29 and Burke was 24.

They were visiting Kenya to stay at a lodge Burke had purchased and was hoping to develop into a vacation destination for entrepreneurs, according to Stapper’s younger brother, Brett Stapper, who had just returned from Kenya Friday.

Burke’s vision was to create an “entrepreneurial paradise where high-level executives could go and explore Africa in a way they hadn’t explored it before,” Brett Stapper told the San Diego Union-Tribune .

Among the activities Burke had arranged for guests was exploring Kenya in helicopters, he said. Shortly before the crash, the group had stopped to watch the sunset over Lake Turkana, Stapper told the newspaper.

Burke had worked as a political consultant before becoming president of a brand incubator called Bland, which earned $100 million in annual revenue, according to his LinkedIn profile.

His sister, Jeriel Burke, said her brother was a “born leader.” Raised in San Diego, he moved to Puerto Rico in 2017.

“He was happiness and blessings,” Burke’s sister wrote in an email to the newspaper. “He lived with fearless courage and a passion for experiencing all of life’s adventures.”

Forti worked as the campaign manager for Brian Watson’s 2018 campaign for Colorado’s treasurer, but the two men had known each other for about four years. They were close outside work too, making fishing trips and family vacations together, Watson said.

“It’s truly a tragic loss,” he said. “He had one of the brightest minds, generous spirits and kindest hearts I’ve ever known.”

Forti leaves a wife, Hope, and five-year-old son, Max, his brother said. The couple also became foster parents shortly after Max was born.

Last month, two Americans were among five people killed when their plane crashed as they were traveling to Lodwar near Lake Turkana. Kenyan police had reported three Americans killed, but the U.S. Embassy confirmed two.

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