NTSB Report: Kobe’s copter engine was OK

Investigators say Bryant’s pilot had nearly cleared fog before hitting Calabasas mountainside

By Alma Fausto | afausto@scng.com, @AlmaFausto1 on Twitter

The National Transportation Safety Board said Friday that the Calabasas helicopter that crashed nearly two weeks ago killing Kobe Bryant and eight others showed no signs of engine failure.

The update came as the NTSB continues to investigate what led to the Sikorsky S-76B’s crash 40 minutes after it departed John Wayne Airport at 9:06 a.m. The pilot circled the Glendale area, then flew into western L.A. County bound for Camarillo Airport.

Amid the dense fog, the helicopter hit the foothills of the Santa Monica mountains and caught fire, killing everyone on board.

The 11-page Aircraft Accident Investigative Update gave more details of what NTSB investigators found at the scene of the wreckage, although it had no definitive cause for the crash.

The report detailed how the engines were found, lying inverted in the burned area.

“Viewable sections of the engines showed no evidence of an uncontained or catastrophic internal failure,” the report said. “The engines were recovered for detailed disassembly examination.”

In addition to Bryant and his daughter Gianna, also killed were Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife, Keri, and their basketball playing daughter Alyssa, mother and daughter Sarah and Payton Chester, Mamba Academy basketball coach Christina Mauser and pilot Ara Zobayan. All were headed for a tournament at Bryant’s youth facility in Thousand Oaks.

During the flight, Zobayan — a pilot since 2001 — requested special visual flight rules, which lets a pilot fly in weather worse than what is allowed under standard visual flight rules.

A review of radio communications between the Burbank airport tower and the helicopter shows the pilot requested permission to fly with monitoring from air traffic control, called “flight following.” The tower can be heard telling the pilot they were too low before the conversation ended. The report said the helicopter was at 2,300, just 100 feet from what nearby NTSB video footage showed was the top of the cloud base, when contact with the tower was lost. Rather than continuing an ascent, the aircraft began descending at more than 4,000 feet per minute at a speed of 184 mph. It crashed at an elevation of 1,085 feet, the report said.

Officials said all inspections on the chopper, built in 1991, were up to date.

“Our investigators have already developed a substantial amount of evidence about the circumstances of this tragic crash,” NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt said in a statement. “And we are confident that we will be able to determine its cause as well as any factors that contributed to it so we can make safety recommendations to prevent accidents like this from occurring again.”

The report noted that a number of personal electronic devices were recovered and were being analyzed.

A full review of the crash could take up to 18 months.

In the days after the crash, there was the question if a terrain warning system, which the chopper was not required to have, could have prevented the crash. Those systems provide a detailed image of surrounding terrain and trigger auditory and visual warnings.

A witness on a bike trail described the area to investigators as surrounded by mist when he heard the sound of the helicopter. The sound got louder and he saw the blue and white chopper emerge from the clouds, passing from left to right.

“He judged it to be moving fast, travelling on a forward and descending trajectory,” the report said. “It started to roll to the left such that he caught a glimpse of its belly. He observed it for 1 to 2 seconds, before it impacted terrain about 50 feet below his position.”

The witness provided a photograph to investigators of the burning helicopter among the vegetation, sending up a cloud of dark smoke.

Los Angeles County firefighters extinguished the fire, which had spread to the surrounding brush. Next, local teams would be joined by federal and state agencies who worked in the days following to retrieve the remains of the nine Orange County victims and the aircraft.

A National Transportation Safety Board investigator examines the Jan. 26th crash site where a helicopter went down killing all nine people on board, including former Lakers star Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna.  COURTESY OF NTSB

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  • To Country: United States
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  • Posted On: 2/8/2020 8:22:38 AM
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  • Last Modified On: 2/8/2020 8:22:38 AM
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