Experts question how the retired basketball star’s helicopter was allowed to fly despite poor visibility
The pilot of the helicopter that crashed into a hillside outside l. a. , killing former NBA superstar Kobe Bryant and eight others, told traffic controllers in his last radio message that he was climbing to avoid a layer of cloud, an accident investigator said on Monday.
The pilot had asked for and received special clearance to fly in heavy fog just minutes before Sunday’s crash and was flying at 1,400 feet (427 metres) when he went south then west, said Jennifer Homendy of the National Transportation Safety Board, which visited the crash scene on Monday to gather evidence.
The pilot then asked for traffic controllers to supply “flight following” assistance, but was told the craft was too low, Homendy said.
About four minutes later, “the pilot advised they were climbing to avoid a cloud layer,” she said.
“When ATC asked what the pilot planned to try to to , there was no reply. Radar data indicates the helicopter climbed to 2,300 feet (701 metres) then began a left descending turn. Last radar contact was about 9.45am (17:45 GMT) and is according to the accident location.
Coroner’s officials worked to recover victims’ remains from the hillside outside l. a. where the helicopter crashed. Aviation experts say the accident may need been caused by the pilot becoming disoriented within the fog.
Some experts raised questions of whether the helicopter should have even been flying.
The weather was so foggy that the l. a. local department and therefore the county sheriff’s department had grounded their own choppers.
The Sikorsky S-76 crashed on Sunday morning, killing the retired athlete along side his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and everybody else on board and scattering debris over a neighborhood the dimensions of a gridiron .
‘Disoriented within the fog’
Crews recovered three bodies on Sunday and resumed the trouble on Monday amid an outpouring of grief and shock round the world over the loss of the basketball great, who helped lead the l. a. Lakers to 5 NBA titles during a 20-year career.
The pilot was identified as Ara Zobayan. Several aviation experts said it had been not uncommon for helicopter pilots to tend such permission, although some thought it unusual that it might be granted in skies as busy as those in l. a. .
But Kurt Deetz, who flew for Bryant dozens of times within the same helicopter, said permission is usually granted within the area.
The aircraft left Santa Ana in Orange County, south of l. a. , shortly after 9am, heading north then west.
Bryant was believed to be headed for his youth sports academy in nearby Thousand Oaks, which was holding a basketball tournament on Sunday during which Bryant’s daughter, referred to as Gigi, was playing.
Air traffic controllers noted poor visibility around Burbank to the north and Van Nuys to the northwest.
At one point, the controllers instructed the helicopter to circle due to other planes within the area before proceeding.
When it struck the bottom , the helicopter was flying at about 184 miles per hour (299 km/h) and descending at a rate of quite 4,000 feet (1,219 metres) per minute, the info showed.
Randy Waldman, a helicopter flight instructor who teaches at the nearby Van Nuys airport, said it had been likely the pilot got disoriented within the fog and therefore the helicopter went into a fatal dive.
“It’s a standard thing that happens in airplanes and helicopters with people flying with poor visibility,” Waldman said.