Stunning new drone footage released by the National Transportation Safety Board shows a swath of catastrophic devastation from the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and eight other people.
The sweeping video shows the smashed hull and a debris field stretching over hundreds of yards of parched Southern California hillside. The actual crash site appears to be on a narrow, dirt trail that loops through the rugged terrain.
The video shows investigators picking through the wreckage, examining even tiny pieces of the plane. The terrain is steep and forbidding, accessible only on foot, horseback and on ATVs.
“It was a pretty devastating accident scene,” NTSB member Jennifer Homendy said.
Barricades are being used in some places and police patrols on horseback are working to keep the public away from the scene. Breaching the perimeter is a misdemeanor offense.
The NTSB is trying to determine what caused the chartered, Sikorsky S-76B helicopter to crash in fog-shrouded conditions Sunday morning. The NTSB did say the helicopter was not equipped with a terrain awareness and warning system, TAWS, recommended for large passenger-carrying choppers since a crash in Texas 15 years ago.
Bryant’s copter also lacked “black boxes” required in airplanes that track data and pilot audio. Investigators do have radar tracking and recordings of communications with air traffic controllers.
Those sources reveal how pilot Ara Zobayan, 50, lifted off from John Wayne International Airport in Orange County bound for Ventura County above Los Angeles.
Homendy said Zobayan sought permission to fly under special visual flight rules, which he was licensed to do. He circled for about 12 minutes before gaining approval from Air Traffic Control, then proceeded out at 1,400 feet.
Zobyan requested flight following – surveillance information assistance from air traffic control – but was informed the helicopter was flying too low. A few minutes later, Zobayan notified air traffic control that he was climbing to avoid a layer of clouds. Radar data shows the helicopter rose to 2,300 feet.
“When ATC asked the pilot what he planned to do, there was no reply,” Homendy said. A short time later the first 911 call came in for a possible helicopter crash and brush fire.
“The descent rate for the helicopter was over 2,000 feet a minute, so we know that this was a high-energy impact crash,” she said.
Homendy said she expects investigators to wrap up the on-site investigation later this week. A preliminary report will be issued in about 10 days, but it won’t include a cause for the crash.
A final report will be issued in eight to 12 months, she said. That should include findings on the cause as well as recommendations to improve helicopter safety.
Authorities in Los Angeles County said the remains of the retired NBA superstar, his daughter Gianna, 13, and the others have been recovered.
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