The debris field in California where a helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven other people crashed killing everyone on board is between 500 and 600 feet and the scene was described as “devastating,” as the National Transportation Safety Board held a press conference Monday.
The helicopter was carrying the passengers from John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana to Burbank, NTSB board member Jennifer Homendy said. She described the flight path and what happened before the crash occurred in Calabasas.
“Initial information showed the helicopter was flying under visual flight rules [VFR] from John Wayne Airport to just southeast of Burbank Airport,” Homendy said. “Around Burbank, the pilot requested to transit controlled airspace under special visual flight rules.
“Special VFR is an air traffic control [ATC] authorization that allows an aircraft to proceed through controlled airspace at less than the basic VFR minimums of 1,000 foot ceiling and 3 miles visibility. ATC advised the pilot there was a delay due to traffic. While awaiting approval, the helicopter circled for 12 minutes until the special VFR was approved by air traffic control.”
Homendy said the helicopter traveled through Burbank and Van Nuys airspace at 1,400 feet and the pilot then requested Flight Following – which was described by Homendy as radar assistance which helps a pilot avoid traffic and provides communication between air traffic control and a pilot.
The pilot was told that they were flying too low for Flight Following assistance, she said.
“Approximately four minutes later, the pilot advised they were climbing to avoid a cloud layer. When ATC asked what the pilot planned to do, there was no reply,” Homendy said. “Radar data indicates that the helicopter climbed to 2,300 feet and then began a left descending turn. Last radar contact was around 9:45 a.m. and is consistent with the accident location.”
Homendy said the debris field was between 500 and 600 feet with wreckage strewn across the hills in Calabasas. She said a piece of the tail is down one side of the hill, the fuselage is on the other side of the hill and the main rotor is 100 yards “beyond that.”
Homendy was asked whether there was any chance for survival. She said officials were still investigating and called the site as “pretty devastating accident scene.”
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said the coroner’s office was still on the scene and they had no plans to release identities right now. The Medical Examiner Examiner’s Office said earlier Monday that the remains of three bodies were recovered.
The victims in the crash were all identified through official statements, media reports and social media statements. Bryant, his daughter Gianna; Christina Mauser; John, Keri and Alyssa Altobelli; Payton and Sarah Chester; and Ara Zobayan were all reported to be among the dead in the wreck.
Zobayan was reported to be the pilot of the aircraft.
While not identifying the pilot by name, Homendy said the pilot had a commercial flying certificate, was a certified flight instructor and as of July 29 had recorded 8,200 hours of flight time experience.
Officials were investigating whether there were any issues in the pilot’s flying record.
Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva said it would be a misdemeanor if anyone accessed the crash site without proper authorization.
“Tough day for everyone. Tough day for the entire world,” he said.