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Three San Diegans killed in Kenya helicopter crash

Posted at 8:22 AM, Mar 04, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-05 02:30:52-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- Three of the four American tourists killed in a helicopter crash in Kenya on Sunday night were from San Diego.

Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey told 10News David Baker, a Coronado resident, was killed in the crash. The US Embassy identified Brandon Stapper and Asher Burke, who also lived in San Diego, as victims earlier in the day Monday.

They were riding in a helicopter that crashed in the Central Island National Park in Lake Turkana on country's northern border at 8:35 p.m. Sunday (2:35 a.m. ET), Kenya's Civil Aviation Authority said in a statement posted on its website.

"A rescue team was dispatched immediately and they arrived at the Central Island at around 11:20 p.m. and located the wreckage at 3:20 a.m. with no survivors," Kenya's aviation chief Gilbert Kibe said.

READ: Pilot, 4 Americans killed in helicopter crash in Kenya

Staff at Stapper's graphics company near Mission Hills told 10News that they learned Sunday evening the self-made entrepreneur was killed in the accident.

In 2015, Stapper, was listed among San Diego's Top 10 Entrepreneurs to watch as a 29-year-old. According to his website, he left Michigan at the age of 20 "and drove to California to chase his dream. 6 months later, he saved $400 while working in a restaurant and purchased a custom decal machine on eBay with a friend."

"Stapper has now founded, acquired, and invested in a broad portfolio of businesses and real estate. He currently spends his time acquiring, growing, and investing in companies as one of the Co-Founders and Operating Partners at a boutique private equity firm called Crown Grown," his web site says.

Stapper's employees described him as being "more like a brother than a boss" and "was one of the most caring people he’s ever met."

"He was a guy that everyday woke up with a smile on his face," said Brandon Blum, who met Stapper eight years ago through the San Diego Entrpreneurs' Organization.

"He had ambitions like nobody I'd ever seen. He had a spark like no one I'd ever seen in my life," said Blum.

Stapper had traveled to Kenya to support Burke, who had recently purchased a lodge that he hoped to market as a retreat for business owners.

"Asher's vision was for entrepreneurs to come out and experience Kenya in an amazing way without rules," said Brett Stapper, Brandon's brother who had also been out to Kenya recently.

David Baker, who worked in commercial real estate and owned several businesses was also on board.

"He was so excited about this trip," remembered Richard Bailey, the mayor of Coronado who was also good friends with Baker.

"Dave was an adventurer. More than anything, Dave lived life to the fullest," said Bailey.

They were all actively involved in local business and entreprenerial activities. Alex Pellegrino, the president of the San Diego Entrepreneurs' Organization, told 10News, "we don't have a statement at this time other than the entire EO community is devastated by this tragedy."

Investigators have not yet established the cause of the crash, according to the National Police Service. But according to Bailey, he got a phone call from Baker's girlfriend who suspected weather was to blame.

"It sounded as though they had been caught up in a wind storm or rain storm and was, in her opinion, likely the source of the problems the helicopter was experiencing," said Bailey.

A local news outlet reported Monday that the two choppers had taken tourists to the island, which borders Ethiopia and is known for its colony of Nile crocodiles.

CNN reported that air mishaps have become frequent in recent months in Kenya, a popular destination for international tourists visiting the east African nation for its vast wildlife and coastal attractions.

Five people, including two Americans tourists, were killed in February after a small passenger plane crashed in Kenya's Mukatano forest.

In July, 10 people aboard a small aircraft died after it crashed in the Aberdare forest in the mountainous region of the country.

Stay with 10News for updates on this developing story.

CNN contributed to this report.