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NTSB: No black box on Bryant’s helicopter

Published: Monday, January 27, 2020 @ 7:40 PM

NBA icon Kobe Bryant killed in helicopter crash in California

NTSB Board Member, Jennifer Homendy said in a press conference Monday afternoon that the final transmission from the pilot of Kobe Bryant’s helicopter said he was climbing to avoid cloud layer.

The pilot had asked for and received special clearance to fly in heavy fog just minutes before the crash and was flying at 1,400 feet when he went south and then west. The pilot then asked for air traffic controllers to provide “flight following” aide but was told the craft was too low, Homendy said.

About four minutes later, “the pilot advised they were climbing to avoid a cloud layer,” she said. “When ATC asked what the pilot planned to do, there was no reply. Radar data indicates the helicopter climbed to 2,300 feet and then began a left descending turn. Radar contact was lost around 9:45 a.m.

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She also said that there was no black box on the Sikorsky S-76.

The pilot was identified as Ara Zobayan, whom she described as an experienced pilot.

She asked the public to email any weather-related photos to witness@ntsb.gov that were taken Sunday morning near the crash site to assist in the investigation.

Coroner’s officials continue to recover victims’ remains Monday from the hillside outside Los Angeles where a helicopter carrying Bryant and eight others crashed in a wreck that aviation experts said may have been caused by the pilot becoming disoriented in the fog.

The helicopter went down in Calabasas, about 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, Sunday.

Among other things, investigators are looking at the pilot’s history, the chopper’s maintenance history and the records of its owner and operator, NTSB board member Jennifer Homendy said at a news conference Sunday.

“The S-76 is a pretty expensive, sophisticated helicopter. ... It’s certainly a quality helicopter,” said Justin Green, an aviation attorney in New York who flew helicopters in the Marine Corps.

Green believes weather may have contributed to the crash. Pilots can become disoriented in bad weather, losing track of which direction is up. Green said a pilot flying an S-76 would be instrument-rated, meaning they could fly the helicopter without relying on visual cues from outside.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.