Officials in Los Angeles said late yesterday dense fog in Southern California likely played a role in the deadly crash in Calabasas that claimed the lives of nine people, including NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his teenage daughter.
The Los Angeles Times reported that several experts pointed to the poor flying conditions in the area and said it will likely play a key part in the investigation. Dense fog covered the area and continued to hang low on the Santa Monica mountain range hours after the crash.
The Sikorsky S-76 helicopter went down in Calabasas, about 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles.
“The weather conditions did not meet our minimum standards for flying,” said Josh Rubenstein, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Department. He pointed out that the department’s Air Support Division did not fly helicopters early yesterday because of the conditions.
Around the time of the crash, several reported the mountains were “fogged in.”
Dr. Jonathan Lucas, the Los Angeles County medical examiner, said the rugged terrain complicated efforts to recover the remains. He estimated it would take at least a couple of days to complete that task before identifications can positively be made.
Bryant’s helicopter left Santa Ana in Orange County, south of Los Angeles, shortly after 9 a.m. and circled for a time just east of Interstate 5, near Glendale. Air traffic controllers noted poor visibility around Burbank, just to the north, and Van Nuys, to the northwest.
After holding up the helicopter for other aircraft, they cleared the Sikorsky S-76 to proceed north along Interstate 5 through Burbank before turning west to follow U.S Route 101, the Ventura Highway.
Shortly after 9:40 a.m., the helicopter turned again, toward the southeast, and climbed to more than 2000 feet. It then descended and crashed into the hillside at about 1400 feet, according to data from Flightradar24.
When it struck the ground, the helicopter was flying at about 184 mph and descending at a rate of more than 4000 feet per minute, the data showed.
Federal transportation safety investigators were on their way to the scene. Among other things, they will look at the pilot’s history, the chopper’s maintenance records and the records of its owner and operator, said NTSB board member Jennifer Homendy at a news conference.
On board the helicopter with the 41-year-old Bryant was his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, John Altobelli (Orange Coast College head baseball coach), Keru Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli, Christina Mauser, Sarah Chester, Payton Chester and Ara Zobayan.