Before the helicopter that was carrying Kobe Bryant, his teenage daughter, and seven others crashed into a Southern California hillside on Sunday morning, the aircraft seemed to be experiencing a tumultuous flight according to flight records available online.
The Sikorsky S-76 carrying the nine victims of the crash took off from the Santa Ana area at 9:08 that morning, according to Flight Aware, a website that tracks flight activities. In a simulation of the flight path available on the site, the helicopter can be seen leaving the Santa Ana area at consistent speeds at around 170 miles per hour and at an altitude of around 1600 feet, before decreasing in speed and altitude suddenly — to around 70 mph and 800 feet — and flying in a circle several times. The aircraft eventually rights itself and increases altitude and speed before veering south, the recreation shows.
The helicopter ultimately crashed into a hillside in Calabasas and burst into flames – killing everyone on board, according to The Associated Press.
Bryant, 41, and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna — one of four daughters the NBA legend shared with wife Vanessa Bryant — were headed to a basketball game in the Thousand Oaks area that morning, CNN reported. Baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife Keri, and their daughter Alyssa, were killed as was Christina Mauser, who worked as an assistant girls' basketball coach at a private school in the Orange County area, the outlet reports. The last to be publicly identified were pilot Ara Zobayan and a mother and daughter, Sarah and Payton Chester, according to Page Six.
Multiple agencies, including the FBI and the National Transportation Safety Board, are investigating the crash, but the cause of the crash is currently unknown. While a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board is expected within 10 days of the incident, a full report may take a year or more to be released to the public.
On the morning of the crash, there was low visibility in the area and local agencies like the police had decided to ground their aircraft until conditions improved.
The Los Angeles Police Department confirmed earlier this week that their Air Support division was grounded from Sunday morning to the afternoon due to the fog, CBS News reports.
“The weather situation did not meet our minimum standards for flying,” Josh Rubenstein, a spokesperson for the LAPD, told the outlet. He added that the fog in the area “was enough that we were not flying.”
A similar sentiment was espoused by Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, according to NBC News.
“My concern is just the decision-making process, and if we weren't flying in that weather, why was anybody else flying?” Villanueva reportedly said.
Bryant’s pilot was allowed to make the trip that morning after being given special permission to do so. Flying under special visual flight rules, or a SVFR clearance, means that a pilot has been given the go-ahead to fly in adverse conditions, when other aircraft may be grounded, according to CNN. Zobayan asked for permission when the aircraft was already in the air, which is not an uncommon occurrence, and circled for 12 minutes until that permission was granted, the outlet reports.
The pilot also asked for flight following, a type of assistance given to pilots by air traffic controllers with access to radar surveillance, but the aircraft was flying too low to receive it, according to CNN. Zobayan then said that he was climbing to avoid a cloud layer; the aircraft crashed soon after.
Widespread mourning followed news of the retired NBA star’s death – with celebrities like Michael Jordan offering their condolences to the families of the victims.
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