The helicopter carrying nine people, including basketball legend Kobe Bryant, was reportedly flying dangerously close to the ground before it crashed. According to Page Six, the pilot flying the aircraft was alerted by traffic control that it was too close to the ground and other helicopters in the area had been grounded because of the dense fog in Los Angeles at the time.
Though the cause of the crash hasn’t been determined at this point, audio from the flight tower reveals that Kobe’s pilot was told the helicopter was too close to the ground.
“Two Echo X-ray, you are still too low for flight following at this time… two Echo X-ray SoCal?” the flight following agent said.
Flight following works as an air traffic control for aircraft that fly in lower altitudes than commercial aircraft in Southern California. The chopper took off around 9 a.m. and circled south of Los Angeles near Glendale, California. After a short wait to clear other aircraft, the air traffic controllers approved the chopper to fly north along Interstate 5 and then west along Route 101.
The pilot was planning to land at Burbank Airport but was circling for at least 15 minutes while it waited to land. Reportedly, the conditions were so bad in the area that aircraft was being held while other craft landed in the difficult weather.
Around 9:40 a.m. the helicopter turned southeast and climbed to 2,000 feet before dropping and crashing at about 1,700 feet.
Reports indicate that the helicopter was flying at 185 mph before slamming into the Calabasas mountainside, killing everyone on board, including Kobe and his daughter Gianna, along with the pilot Ara Zobayan, baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife Keri, and their daughter Alyssa. Christina Mauser, Sarah Chester, and Payton Chester were also on the flight, which was reportedly heading to a basketball tournament that Gianna and the other youngsters on board were participating in.
The helicopter crashed at about 9:45 a.m. on Sunday morning with an impact that spread debris hundreds of feet. Though it isn’t clear if the fog had any role in causing the craft to crash, the HuffPost reports that local Los Angeles Police Department choppers were grounded at the time because of concerns about the conditions.
The remains of the bodies likely won’t be recovered for days because of the harsh conditions where the aircraft crashed.
One expert said that it’s unlikely that a mechanical failure caused the accident.
“The likelihood of a catastrophic twin engine failure on that aircraft — it just doesn’t happen,” said Kurt Deetz, a pilot who has flown Kobe in the past.
One individual who lives near where the helicopter went down said that it was foggy in the area.
“It was very foggy so we couldn’t see anything,” Colin Storm said. “But then we heard some sputtering and then a boom.”
Another expert said that it seems likely that the pilot was in control of the craft but was disoriented.
“All the signs point to a CFIT [controlled flight into terrain] which is when an aircraft under the complete control of a pilot is inadvertently flown into the land, sea, or a building,” the expert said. “These accidents happen when the pilot loses situational awareness. The crash site also points to this, given how the debris is scattered, it looks like they went nose-first into the mountain.”
“Kobe’s helicopter is 29 years old, and most Sikorsky S-76s fly with two pilots. On Sunday, Kobe had just one pilot, who was likely flying on visual flight rules, rather than using instruments to monitor altitude,” added the source.
Fans were shocked to hear the news about the Los Angeles Lakers legend, and celebrities like Kanye West, Lizzo, Shaquille O’Neal, and Chrissy Teigen have expressed their deep sadness at losing the charismatic sports hero.