The remains of six of the nine people killed in last week’s helicopter crash, including Kobe Bryant, have been released to their families, the Los Angeles County coroner’s office said Monday.
The National Transportation Safety Board is continuing to investigate the Jan. 26 crash that killed the Los Angeles Lakers icon and others who were flying to a girls’ basketball game at Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks.
The chopper took off from John Wayne Airport in Orange County midmorning and encountered heavy fog en route to Camarillo Airport. The conditions were bad enough that the Los Angeles Police Department’s Air Support Division grounded its helicopters and didn’t fly until later in the afternoon, department spokesman Josh Rubenstein said.
The pilot, Ara Zobayan, 50, of Huntington Beach, was worried enough to ask flight controllers to keep track of them. As he approached the hills of Calabasas at 150 mph, the tower radioed him, saying he was too low to be seen on radar.
Zobayan commenced a climb, rising 765 feet in 36 seconds, enough to clear nearby hills. But what happened next is a mystery: The Sikorsky S-76B suddenly veered off course and descended rapidly. The twin-engine aircraft dropped 325 feet in 14 seconds, reaching 176 mph before losing contact and striking the hillside above Las Virgenes Road, killing everyone on board.
The crash, described by NTSB investigator Jennifer Homendy as “a high-energy impact crash,” scattered debris across 600 feet. Coroner’s officials have determined that all nine people on board died of blunt force trauma.
Records shows that in addition to Bryant, 41, the remains of five others have been released by the coroner’s office: Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna; Christina Mauser, 38; Sarah Chester, 45, and her daughter Payton, 13; and Zobayan.
The bodies of the remaining victims — John Altobelli, 56; his wife, Keri Altobelli, 46; and their 13-year-old daughter, Alyssa — had not yet been released late Monday.
The release of the remains comes as Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, Los Angeles civic leaders and the Lakers organization are working to put together a public memorial for the basketball star and his daughter.
The NTSB is expected to offer a preliminary assessment on the cause of the crash in about a week, but a final report could take a year. The federal agency had previously recommended helicopters like the one carrying Bryant be equipped with a terrain warning system, a safety feature that might have saved the lives of those on board.
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