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Kobe Bryant probe underway to find helicopter crash cause

By BBC On Tue, 28 Jan, 2020 09:17 | 3 mins read
Kobe Bryant
NBA legend Kobe Bryant has died in a helicopter crash at age 41. PHOTO | AFP

US investigators are working to determine the causes of the helicopter crash that killed basketball star Kobe Bryant in California on Sunday.

All nine people on board the helicopter died, including Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.

Investigators are expected to focus on the weather conditions, which were foggy, and on any mechanical failures that may have occurred.

Bryant was considered to be one of the greatest players in the game’s history.

He was a five-time NBA champion for his only team, the Los Angeles Lakers, and a double Olympic gold medallist. He retired in April 2016.

Tributes from fans, fellow basketball players and other public figures have been pouring in from around the world while fans congregate at a makeshift memorial for the player in front of the Lakers’ Staples Center in Los Angeles.

The NBA cancelled a game between the Lakers and the Clippers scheduled for the stadium on Tuesday.

What will investigators focus on?

Investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are gathering in the area to launch separate crash investigations.

The federal agency has a team of about 20 people in LA and will work with the FAA, the helicopters’ manufacturer and the company that made its engine, the Washington Post reports.

Investigators began searching through the wreckage on Monday. The FBI is helping the NTSB’s staff document the scene, which is standard procedure.

The aircraft – a Sikorsky S-76B – went down into a hillside outside the city of Calabasas, west of Los Angeles, on Sunday at 09:45 local time (17:45 GMT).

Conditions were foggy when the flight took off, and local police had grounded their helicopters due to the poor weather.

The pilot asked air traffic controllers for a special clearance, known as Special Visual Flight Rules, to fly in less than optimal weather, said NTSB board member Jennifer Homendy, who went to the crash scene to collect evidence.

The helicopter, she added, circled in the air for 12 minutes before being given the clearance. The pilot then asked controllers for “flight following”, an assistance given to helicopters to avoid collisions, but was told the craft was too low to be picked up by radar.

Minutes later, the pilot said he was “climbing to avoid a cloud layer”, she added. The helicopter climbed and began a left descending turn, according to radar data, before communication was lost “consistent with the accident location”.

Pilots can experience “spatial disorientation” when they fly in cloudy conditions, due to the lack of visual input, Thomas Anthony, director of the USC Aviation Safety and Security Programme, told the BBC.

“That’s why it’s necessary to use the [flight] instruments, which give you an artificial horizon.”

However, he added that it was “never one thing that causes an aircraft accident”, and investigators would need to look into “what things came together to result in this tragic mishap”.

The S-76 is a “well evolved, sophisticated aircraft that is used widely around the world”, he said, adding that it had two jet engines, which gave it capability even if one stopped working.

Ms Homendy said debris was spread out over about 500ft (150m) with the tail and the main rotor having separated from the fuselage, calling it a “devastating accident scene”. She added there was no cockpit voice recorder, known as a black box, as there was no requirement for it.

Why was Kobe Bryant travelling by helicopter?

Bryant had been on his way to coach his daughter’s basketball team in a local youth tournament.

He was known for taking his helicopter to beat traffic in Los Angeles.

“Los Angeles is notorious” for traffic jams, says Professor Michael Manville, traffic lead at the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies.

He says this is due to the lack of road pricing- as well as the fact that LA has “the urbanisation and economy of a city, but the zoning and layout of a suburb” – which means residents cannot avoid driving, but the volume of traffic on roads is high.

According to research firm Inrix, drivers in Los Angeles lost an average of 128 hours to congestion in 2018.

The journey, from Bryant’s home near Newport Beach to Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, would take just over an hour without traffic – but can take more than three hours when congestion is bad.

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