Weather conditions eyed in Kobe Bryant helicopter crash

Officials in Los Angeles said late Sunday that dense fog in Southern California likely played a role in the deadly crash in Calabasas that claimed the lives of nine people, including NBA great Kobe Bryant and his teenage daughter.

Several experts pointed to the poor flying conditions in the area and said fog will likely play a key part in the investigation, the Los Angeles Times reported. Dense fog covered the area and continued to hang low on the Santa Monica mountain range hours after the crash.

The Sikorsky S-76 helicopter went down in Calabasas, about 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles.

“The weather conditions did not meet our minimum standards for flying,” Josh Rubenstein, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Department, told the paper. He pointed out that the department’s Air Support Division did not fly helicopters early on due to the conditions.

Around the time of the crash, L.A. Times’ Richard Winton reported that the mountains were “fogged in.”

“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,” Jerry Kocharian, a witness, told the Los Angeles Times.

“You could hear it – thump, thump, thump – and then a loud thud,” Pastor Bob Bjerkaas, who was teaching Sunday school at the Church in the Canyons, told USA Today. His wife ran out and saw a cloud of gray billowing from the mountains,  the report said. Bjerkaas said it was “dense.”

“My guess is he was flying low,” he said.

Dr. Jonathan Lucas, the Los Angeles County medical examiner, said the rugged terrain complicated efforts to recover the remains. He estimated it would take at least a couple of days to complete that task before identifications could be made.

Bryant’s helicopter left Santa Ana in Orange County, south of Los Angeles, shortly after 9 a.m. and circled for a time just east of Interstate 5, near Glendale. Air traffic controllers noted poor visibility around Burbank, just to the north, and Van Nuys, to the northwest.

After holding up the helicopter for other aircraft, they cleared the Sikorsky S-76 to proceed north along Interstate 5 through Burbank before turning west to follow U.S Route 101, the Ventura Highway.

Shortly after 9:40 a.m., the helicopter turned again, toward the southeast, and climbed to more than 2,000 feet. It then descended and crashed into the hillside at about 1,400 feet, according to data from Flightradar24.

When it struck the ground, the helicopter was flying at about 184 mph and descending at a rate of more than 4,000 feet per minute, the data showed.

Federal transportation safety investigators were on their way to the scene. Among other things, they will look at the pilot’s history, the chopper’s maintenance records and the records of its owner and operator, said NTSB board member Jennifer Homendy at a news conference.

According to TMZ Sports and The New York Times, Bryant’s daughter Gianna was also killed in the crash. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver also confirmed the death of Bryant and his daughter in a statement.

“The NBA family is devastated by the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna,” Silver said.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office said in a Sunday afternoon press conference there were nine people listed on the helicopter’s manifest and all were believed to be dead. Police did not confirm any of the identities of the victims.

Orange Coast College said its head baseball coach, John Altobelli, was also among those killed. A family member told CNN Altobelli’s daughter and wife were also aboard the helicopter.

Christina Mauser, an assistant girls basketball coach at the Harbor Day School in Corona del Mar, was also identified as a victim, according to KTLA. Matthew Mauser, her husband, took to Facebook to announce the loss.

“My kids and I are devastated. We lost our beautiful wife and mom today in a helicopter crash. Please respect our privacy. Thank you for all the well wishes they mean so much,” he wrote in a post.

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