3RD UPDATE, 12:30 PM: The National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary report on the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others last month found no evidence of engine failure. Read the report here.
“Viewable sections of the engines showed no evidence of an uncontained or catastrophic internal failure,” the report states. “The No. 2 engine first-stage compressor blades exhibited tip curl in the direction opposite of rotation, consistent with powered rotation at the time of impact.”
The report is heavy with facts but offers no conclusions as to a cause of the accident. The NTSB said on January 28 that a full report will take 12-18 months.
“Our investigators have already developed a substantial amount of
evidence about the circumstances of this tragic crash,” NTSB Chairman Robert 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.”
2ND UPDATE, January 28: Authorities updated the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash investigation during a news conference today but offered few new details. Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva confirmed that the roads have reopened but that the crash area remains secured because it is a hazmat site.
National Transportation Safety Board member Jennifer Homendy said the aircraft was descending at 2,000 feet per minute when it went down, “so we know this was a high-energy-impact crash.”
She noted that the crashed helicopter did not have a Terrain Awareness and Warning System but added that it was not required by law to have one. Homendy said the NTSB had made a recommendation to the FAA 15 years ago that it “require all existing and new U.S.-registered turbine-powered rotocrafts certificated for six or more passenger seats to be equipped with a Terrain Awareness and Warning System. They did not implement the recommendation. In 2014, we closed the recommendation as unacceptable.”
Homendy said her group will issue a preliminary report in 10 days that will provide “facts only” and will not speculate as to the cause of the accident. She said the NTSB will release its final report in 12 to 18 months, which will include its findings, recommendations and probable cause.
She noted that an iPad and cell phone were recovered from the wreckage today, but investigators don’t know yet whether either belonged to the pilot Ara Zobayan, who died in the crash Sunday along with Bryant, the former Lakers star’s daughter and six others. It also has located maintenance and airworthiness records from the aircraft.
The NTSB has begun interviews with air traffic controllers and the helicopter’s operators and has held a briefing for family members of the deceased. Homendy also noted that the NTSB still has work to do at the crash site, but has turned it over to local authorities.
She also said today’s briefing would be her last about the case.
UPDATED, 2:21 PM: The Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office said today that all of the bodies have been recovered from the site of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others. Autopsies on the bodies have begun. Read the statement below.
Also, authorities have reopened the Las Virgenes Road offramps from the north- and southbound 101 Freeway in Calabasas and the stretch of Las Virgenes that had been closed.
Here is today’s statement from the ME:
The bodies of the nine people who died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas on Sunday have been recovered, the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner announced.
On Sunday afternoon, personnel from the department’s Special Operations Response Team (SORT) recovered three bodies from the helicopter wreckage located in the 4200 block of Las Virgenes Road in Calabasas.
The next day, the search continued for the other six helicopter occupants. Soon after, their bodies were located, removed from the crash site and transported to the department’s Forensic Science Center.
Currently, investigators are actively working on identifying the decedents. Additionally, body examinations are in progress.
The Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner will provide immediate updates on the names of the decedents as soon as they are officially verified and their next of kin have been notified.
PREVIOUSLY, January 27: Authorities today gave an update on the investigation into the helicopter crash that killed Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bryant, his young daughter Gianna and seven others Sunday.
National Transportation Safety Board member Jennifer Homendy spoke outside the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station in Calabasas. Few new details were disclosed, but Homendy spent some time discussing the aircraft’s flight path “because I want to make sure it is reported accurately.”
The flight area was shrouded in fog Sunday morning, but pilot Ara Zobayan was qualified to fly in bad conditions and had been cleared to fly that day, according to his communications with air traffic controllers.
Homendy said investigators are looking at, “but not just focusing on” weather as a possible cause of the crash and asked the public to provide any photos that show the weather conditions in the area at the time of the crash. She also noted that there is “no criminal aspect of this investigation.”
She said veteran pilot Zobayan — who also died in the accident — was flying from John Wayne Airport in Orange County to just south of Burbank Airport. She said “preliminary information is that the helicopter was flying under special visual flight rules, or VFRs, an air traffic control authorization that allows an aircraft to proceed through controlled airspace at less than the basic VFR minimums of 1,000-foot ceiling with three miles visibility.”
She added that while awaiting approval for the special VFR, the pilot circled for about 12 minutes until his request was approved by air traffic controllers. She said the pilot requested “flight following” — which Homendy described as radar tracking — but air traffic controllers said the helicopter was flying too low to allow for that. “Approximately four minutes later,” she said, “the pilot advised that they were climbing to avoid a cloud layer” as the craft headed instead for Camarillo. “When ATC asked what the pilot planned to do, there was no reply.”
Homendy said there was no “black box” aboard the helicopter and that federal rules do not require that they have one. She added that investigators are expected to be on scene for five days to “collect perishable evidence” but stressed that they are not there to determine a cause of the accident.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva also was at today’s press briefing. He said it will be “a misdemeanor for anyone to unlawfully access the crash site” and said deputies are patrolling the area on horseback. The Las Virgenes offramps from the north- and southbound 101 Freeway remain closed, as does Las Virgenes Road between Agoura Road and Lost Hills Road. Only residents with ID are allowed into the perimeter.
Homendy said the debris field is spread over about 500-600 feet around the crash site in the Santa Monica Mountains behind the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District building in the 4200 block of Las Virgenes Road near Willow Tree Lane.
A team from the Los Angeles County coroner’s office is still on scene recovering the victims’ remains.
Also killed in the crash along with Kobe and Gianna Bryant and pilot Zobayan, were Orange Coast College head baseball coach John Altobelli; his wife Keri Altobelli; their 13-year-old daughter Alyssa Altobelli; Christina Mauser, a basketball coach at Harbor Day School in Newport Beach, CA; Payton Chester, a basketball teammate of Gianna Bryant’s; and her mother, Sarah Chester. There were no survivors.
Revered by millions around the world, Bryant played his entire 20-year career with the Lakers. The team traded popular veteran center Vlade Divac for the then-17-year-old shooting guard after the Charlotte Hornets had selected Bryant 13th overall in the 1996 NBA Draft.
He went on to win five NBA championships (2000-02, 2009, 2010), made 18 All-Star teams and is fourth on the league’s all-time scoring list. He was the 2008 NBA Most Valuable Player and a two-time scoring champion. He scored 81 points in a 2006 game against Toronto, the second-most in a single game in NBA history. Bryant retired in 2016, after scoring 60 points in his final game.
Bryant won the 2018 Best Animated Short Oscar for producing Dear Basketball, which was based on a short poem he wrote on his feelings about the game. It marked the first time a former pro athlete was nominated for an Oscar, and he remains the first pro athlete to win an Oscar in any category. He also was the subject of Kobe Doin’ Work, Spike Lee’s 2009 documentary that spotlighted Bryant over the course of a 2008 game against the San Antonio Spurs.