An investigation has been launched into what caused the helicopter transporting basketball icon Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and 7 others to crash into a hillside amidst foggy conditions on Sunday morning, the Washington Post reports.
Eyewitnesses have claimed that the luxury Sikorsky S-76B, which was built in 1991, sounded sluggish just before the crash, which occurred at around 9:47 a.m. PT.
It [didn’t] sound right and it was real low. I saw it falling and spluttering. But it was hard to make out as it was so foggy,” eyewitness Jerry Kocharian told the Los Angeles Times. “The helicopter vanished into a cloud of fog and then there was a boom. There was a big fireball. No one could survive that.”
At the time of the tragic incident, the fog was so dense—and visibility so poor—that the Los Angeles Police and County Sheriff’s departments grounded their own helicopters.
However, experts did say that the bad weather would not have necessarily stopped Bryant’s helicopter from taking off, as it should have had instruments that would permit the pilot to navigate in the conditions. If the instruments were not being used, the pilot would have been operating under visual flight rules, which mandate good visibility, the Times notes.
ESPN reviewed audio in which an air traffic controller told the pilot that he was “still too low for flight following,” meaning that the aircraft was not being picked up by radar due to the hills in the area.
The sports site noted that the chopper made a climbing left turn about 2,400 feet high, before diving and crashing. When it hit the ground, the helicopter was traveling at about 160 knots (184 mph) and descending at a rate of more than 4,000 feet per minute, according to data from Flightradar24.
CBSLA has identified all 9 of the victims of the crash, which include Orange Coast College head basketball coach John Altobelli, his wife Keri, and their daughter Alyssa, Harbor Day School basketball coach Christina Mauser, Sarah Chester, and her daughter, Payton, and the pilot Ara Zobayan.
“It’s horrible,” he said. “It’s horrible. I’ve got three small kids, and I’m trying to figure out how to navigate life with three kids and no mom.”