Kobe Bryant was one of nine victims of a tragic helicopter crash that took place on January 26, 2020. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is conducting an ongoing investigation on the cause of the crash along with other details on the accident.
The Sikorsky S76B helicopter, N72EX, crashed into hilly terrain near Calabasas, California which resulted in a post-impact fire, per NTSB. While the investigation is still ongoing, there are a few details that have been released and the NTSB last provided an update on February 7, 2020.
The helicopter departed about 9:06 a.m. pacific time and the crash occurred within the hour at 9:45 a.m., according to the investigative report. Visibility during the flight appears to be one of the main contributing factors to the crash as detailed in the NTSB report.
At 0920, as the aircraft neared the Burbank class C airspace, the pilot requested to transition the area along Highway 101. The current Burbank weather observation reported instrument flight rules (IFR) conditions. In response to the pilot’s request, the air traffic controller advised that cloud tops were reported at 2,400 feet msl and queried the pilot’s intentions; the pilot then requested a special VFR clearance (an ATC authorization to proceed in controlled airspace at less than VFR weather minima).
Photos of the Area Show Fog & Clouds That Caused the Hilltops to Be Obstructed
Just before the crash, pilot Ara Zobayan told Southern California Terminal Radar Approach Control that he was climbing above cloud layers and requested advisory services. Zobayan’s final transmission before the crash informed the SCT that he was climbing to 4,000 feet. Videos and photos were taken of the area of the crash which “depict fog and low clouds obscuring the hilltops,” per NTSB. The investigation so far has shown that the helicopter functioned as intended and engine failure was not the cause of the crash, per NPR.
“Viewable sections of the engines showed no evidence of an uncontained or catastrophic internal failure,” the NTSB explained, per NPR.
NPR also reported that the helicopter’s company, Island Express Helicopters, was only cleared to fly under visual flight rules (VFR).
The highly experienced instructor pilot was allowed to fly in the clouds using instrument guidance but was prevented from doing so because of his company’s limitation.
Who Were the Passengers That Died in the Helicopter Crash?
Bryant and his daughter, Gianna “Gigi” Bryant, were two of the eight passengers on the helicopter. The following victims were also in the crash: John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli, Sarah Chester, Payton Chester and Christina Mauser. The helicopter was heading from Orange County to Thousand Oaks for a youth basketball game featuring the Lady Mambas which was coached by Bryant, per CNN.
An eyewitness of the crash was cited by the NTSB in the investigative report. The witness described the area as being “surrounded by mist” and the report included his recollection of seeing the crash.
He said he began to hear the sound of a helicopter, which he described as appropriate for a helicopter flying while in a powered
condition. He perceived the sound getting louder and saw a blue and white helicopter emerge from the clouds passing from left to right directly to his left. He judged it to be moving fast, [traveling] on a forward and descending trajectory.
The NTSB recovered electronic devices that were on the helicopter and are continuing to examine them to see if they reveal any additional information about the crash. The investigation continues to be ongoing and an official cause of the crash may not be revealed for quite some time.