The National Transportation Safety Board have released images from a security camera which shows Kobe Bryant’s helicopter flying into clouds in the moments before the crash which killed the basketball icon, his daughter and seven others.
An update from investigators also stated that the helicopter did not show any evidence of engine failure.
Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others died in the January 26 crash in Calabasas, California.
The group was flying to a girls basketball tournament at his Mamba Sports Academy. Gianna’s team was coached by Bryant and was playing in the tournament.
The NTSB is investigating the accident, including any role heavy fog played, and a final report isn’t expected for at least a year.
The helicopter’s instrument panel was destroyed in the crash and most of the devices were displaced, according to the NTSB’s investigative update that was released Friday. The flight controls were broken and suffered fire damage.
The helicopter carrying Bryant, his daughter and six other passengers was piloted by Ara Zobayan, 50.
Longtime Orange Coast College baseball coach, John Altobelli, 56, his wife Keri, 46; their daughter Alyssa, 13; Christina Mauser, 38, an assistant basketball coach at the Mamba Sports Academy; Sarah Chester, 45, and her daughter, Payton, 13, were all killed in the crash.
Investigators believe that since a tree branch at the crash site was cut, it appears the engines were working and rotors turning at the time of impact.
The victims’ deaths have been ruled an accident by blunt trauma, according to the Los Angeles County coroner.
Friday’s report did not offer any information about what directly caused the crash, but detailed the minutes leading up to the impact.
It also offered details of the crash site.
‘The wreckage was located in the foothills of the Santa Monica mountains, in a mountain bike park,’ the report states. ‘The impact site was on an approximate 34⁰ slope. The impact crater was 24 feet-by-15 feet in diameter and 2 feet deep.’
The report also details the helicopter pilot’s contacts with air traffic control in the lead up to the crash.
The pilot had flown under special conditions lower to the ground while it navigated bad weather, but appeared to be climbing immediately before the crash.
The report states: ‘The SCT controller then asked the pilot his intentions, to which he replied he was climbing to 4,000 feet. There were no further transmissions.’
It notes that the helicopter climbed to 1,500 feet above the highway, before beginning a left turn towards its destination.
The report adds: ‘Eight seconds later, the aircraft began descending and the left turn continued. The descent rate increased to over 4,000 feet per minute (fpm), ground speed reached 160 knots.’
The report also details the account of a witness who saw the crash from the mountain.
It says: ‘[He] saw a blue and white helicopter emerge from the clouds passing from left to right directly to his left. He judged it to be moving fast, travelling on a forward and descending trajectory.
‘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 NTSB notes that the helicopter was not equipped with a flight data recorder or cockpit voice recorder, but it was not required to be.
Authorities said the area is still closed off to the public due to the hazardous materials such as debris, magnesium and other toxins in the ground following the January 26 crash. It will take some time to fully remove the substances from the area.
The official update comes as the manufacturer of the helicopter, Sikorsky, urged customers to install a critical warning system that was missing from Bryant’s chopper.
Investigators revealed on Wednesday that the terrain awareness and warning system (TAWS), which is designed to send a warning when a collision appears imminent, had not been installed on Bryant’s helicopter.
While Sikorsky regularly provides updates on technology updates, sources told TMZ that they are calling customers and making it a top priority following Bryant’s death.
National Transportation Safety Board officials say it is too early to tell whether a TAWS on Bryant’s Sikorsky helicopter could have prevented the crash.
But they think it should have been installed on the aircraft and they criticized federal regulators for not carrying out the NTSB’s recommendation over a decade ago to mandate such equipment on helicopters with six or more passenger seats.
The warning system is required in medical helicopters but not in commercial ones like the one used by Bryant.
The death of the basketball star has highlighted the debate over the merits of the warning systems.
While the crash has led to calls for warning systems to be installed in more helicopters, regulators and pilots have since raised fears that the instrument can trigger too many alarms and prove distracting.
‘Another warning system screaming at you isn’t going to help,’ Brian Alexander, a helicopter pilot and aviation lawyer, said.
‘You don’t want to inundate the pilot.’
While some pilots believe TAWS is unnecessary and refer to its warnings as ‘nuisance alarms’, Peter Goelz, a former managing director of the NTSB, said there is ‘no reasonable excuse’ for the system not to be installed on all choppers.
‘From a safety perspective, you want all the safety enhancements that are available,’ he said. ‘The trade-off is worth it.’
The NTSB recommended that the FFA require the system after a Sikorsky S-76A carrying workers to an offshore drilling ship, crashed in the Gulf of Mexico near Galveston, Texas, killing all 10 people aboard in 2004.
A decade later, the FAA mandated such systems on air ambulances only.
FAA officials had questioned the value of such technology on helicopters, which tend to fly close to buildings and the ground and could trigger too many alarms.
Bill English, investigator in charge of the NTSB’s Major Investigations Division, said it was not clear yet whether ‘TAWS and this scenario are related to each other.’
The pilot was well-acquainted with the skies over Los Angeles and accustomed to flying Bryant and other celebrities.