Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bryant, 41, and his 13-year-old daughter were among nine people killed when a helicopter crashed in foggy conditions Sunday and then caught fire on a hillside in the Calabasas area outside Los Angeles.
Bryant’s daughter, Gianna, and a teammate on her basketball team also were on board the helicopter when it went down northwest of LA, a city official said.
The cause of the crash was unknown, but conditions at the time were such that the Los Angeles Police Department and the county sheriff’s department grounded their helicopters.
The Los Angeles County medical examiner, Dr Jonathan Lucas, said the rugged terrain complicated efforts to recover the remains. He estimated it would take at least a couple of days to complete that task before identifications can be made.
Bryant’s helicopter left Santa Ana in Orange County, south of Los Angeles, shortly after 9 a.m. and circled for a time just east of Interstate 5, near Glendale. Air traffic controllers noted poor visibility around Burbank, just to the north, and Van Nuys, to the northwest.
After holding up the helicopter for other aircraft, they cleared the Sikorsky S-76 to proceed north along Interstate 5 through Burbank before turning west to follow U.S Route 101, the Ventura Highway.
Shortly after 9:40 a.m., the helicopter turned again, toward the southeast, and climbed to more than 2000 feet (609 meters). It then descended and crashed into the hillside at about 1400 feet (426 meters), according to data from Flightradar24.
When it struck the ground, the helicopter was flying at about 160 knots (184 mph) and descending at a rate of more than 4000 feet per minute, the data showed.
The chopper went down in Calabasas, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) northwest of downtown Los Angeles. Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy in nearby Thousand Oaks was holding a basketball tournament on Sunday.
Federal transportation safety investigators were on their way to the scene. Among other things, they will look at the pilot’s history, the chopper’s maintenance records and the records of its owner and operator, said NTSB board member Jennifer Homendy at a news conference.
Kurt Deetz, a pilot who used to fly Bryant in the chopper, said the crash was more likely caused by bad weather than engine or mechanical issues.