The helicopter pilot who crashed near Los Angeles on Sunday morning, killing former NBA star Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and six other passengers, told air traffic controllers in his last message that he was climbing higher into the sky to avoid cloud cover before crashing into a hillside, according to the Associated Press. The helicopter reached up to 2,300 feet before descending. When the helicopter crashed, the wreckage was found at 1,085 feet.
"The debris field is pretty extensive," Jennifer Homendy of the National Transportation Safety Board said. "A piece of the tail is down the hill, The fuselage is on the other side of that hill. And then the main rotor is about 100 yards (91 meters) beyond that."
The pilot asked and received permission to fly in the heavy fog just minutes before the crash. He was at 1,400 feet when he went south and then west. The pilot then asked for "flight following" radar but air traffic control told him that they couldn't track him because the helicopter was too low.
"The pilot advised they were climbing to avoid a cloud layer," Homendy added. "When ATC asked what the pilot planned to do, there was no reply. Radar data indicates the helicopter climbed to 2,300 feet (701 meters) and then began a left descending turn. Last radar contact was around 9:45 a.m."
Two minutes later, someone on the ground called 911 to report the crash. Despite getting clearance to fly in the fog, some experts have argued if the pilot should have been in the air at all, especially with the Los Angeles Police Department and the county sheriff's department having grounded their own helicopters.
"If you're flying visually, if you get caught in a situation where you can't see out the windshield, the life expectancy of the pilot and the aircraft is maybe 10, 15 seconds, and it happens all the time, and it's really a shame," Randy Waldman, a helicopter flight instructor in the area told the AP.
Along with Bryant and Gianna, the other victims were John Altobelli, 56, longtime head coach of Southern California's Orange Coast College baseball team, his wife, Keri, and daughter, Alyssa, who was on the same basketball team as Bryant's daughter and Christina Mauser, a girls basketball coach at a Southern California elementary school. They were all traveling to Bryant's Mamba Sports Academy.