Kobe Bryant Dead: Probe Will Likely Focus on Fog, Possible Mechanical Problems

The investigation into the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old Gianna and seven others aboard a helicopter will most likely focus on foggy weather conditions and potential mechanical problems, mechanical experts and pilots told the Los Angeles Times. At the time of the crash, which was shortly before 10 a.m. in Calabasas, visibility was so poor that the Los Angeles police and county sheriff's departments had grounded their own helicopters.

Bad weather would not have prevented Bryant's Sikorsky S-76B helicopter from flying, because it should have been equipped with instruments that allow pilots to fly in inclement conditions, experts said. But if the pilot were not using those instruments, he would have been operating the helicopter under visual flight rules, or VFR, which require good visibility.

An audio recording of an exchange between the pilot and air traffic controllers indicates that the was flying under visual flight rules, but that could not be confirmed Sunday night, the L.A. Times reports. The pilot reportedly told a controller that he was "in VFR at 1,5000" feet at one point.

Bryant's helicopter departed John Wayne Airport in Orange County at 9:06 a.m., flew over Boyle Heights and near Dodger Stadium, then circled Glendale before crashing in heavy fog, according to publicly available flight records and witness accounts.

A former pilot for Island Express Holding Corp., the company to which the helicopter was registered, told The Times he thought the crash was likelier caused by bad weather than mechanical issues. "The likelihood of a catastrophic twin-engine failure on that aircraft — it just doesn't happen," Kurt Deetz said, adding that he had logged more than 1,000 hours in the chopper that crashed Sunday.

The aircraft that Bryant and the others were riding in was built in 1991 and is reportedly a popular choice among corporate executives, celebrities and others. It has been used by air ambulance services and oil companies to ferry workers to offshore rigs. The S-76 model had among the lowest number and rate of fatal crashes of all popular civilian helicopters in the United States from 2006 to 2016, according to data from an L.A. Times analysis of National Transportation Safety Board accident reports and the Federal Aviation Administration.

When Bryant retired from the NBA in 2016, he flew out of downtown Los Angeles in the same helicopter, wrapped in a gray and black paint scheme with his Mamba emblem on the side, Deetz said.

On Sunday, Bryant and Gianna were on their way to the Mamba Academy for basketball practice when the helicopter crashed just before 10 a.m. PT. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department later confirmed there were seven other people on board (including the pilot), and there were no survivors.

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Although officials have not confirmed the identity of the other victims, family members said Orange Coast college baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife Keri Altobelli and daughter Alyssa Altobelli died in the crash.

Bryant, 41, spent his entire 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, and both his numbers 8 and 24 were retired after his final game in 2016. He won five NBA championships with the team, as well as two Olympic gold medals with Team USA.