No black box in Kobe Bryant helicopter crash

AvatarBy Vertical Mag | January 28, 2020

Estimated reading time 4 minutes, 48 seconds.

The Sikorsky S-76B helicopter that crashed into a hillside in Calabasas, California, on Jan. 26, killing Kobe Bryant and eight others, was not equipped with a “black box,” according to National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) member Jennifer Homendy.

Kobe Bryant NTSB press conference
L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva speaks at a Monday press conference about the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, with the NTSB’s Jennifer Homendy standing behind him. LASD Photo

“There wasn’t a black box, and there isn’t a requirement to have a black box on this, so there was no CVR [cockpit voice recorder], no FDR [flight data recorder],” she said at a Monday press conference.

However, she indicated that NTSB investigators discovered an iPad equipped with the flight planning software ForeFlight, and would be looking at that as well as other electronics and avionics as they seek to determine the cause of the crash.

While officials have not formally released the names of the victims, various outlets have now identified all nine: Bryant and his daughter Gianna; Orange Coast College head baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife Keri, and their daughter Alyssa; girls’ basketball coach Christina Mauser; Sarah Chester and her daughter Payton; and the pilot, Ara Zobayan.

Homendy described a “devastating” accident scene surrounding an impact crater in rough terrain at an elevation of 1,085 feet above sea level.

“There is an impact area on one of the hills, and a piece of the tail is down the hill on the left side of the hill. The fuselage is over on the other side of that hill and then the main rotor is about 100 yards beyond that. The debris field is about 500 to 600 feet,” she said.

Homendy provided an account of the accident flight that largely confirmed publicly available flight data and air traffic control (ATC) recordings, with some new details. Departing from John Wayne Airport in Orange County, the helicopter traveled north and held outside of Burbank airspace while it waited to obtain a special visual flight rules (VFR) clearance.

“The helicopter transited Burbank and Van Nuys airspace at 1,400 feet and proceeded south, then west,” Homendy related. “The pilot requested flight following to continue to Camarillo, but Southern California TRACON advised the pilot that they were too low for flight following.

“Approximately four minutes later, the pilot advised they were climbing to avoid a cloud layer. When ATC asked what the pilot planned to do, there was no reply. Radar data indicates the helicopter climbed to 2,300 feet and then began a left descending turn. Last radar contact was around 9:45 a.m. and is consistent with the accident location.”

Homendy said the NTSB is seeking photos of weather in the area of the crash, and is encouraging members of the public to email their photos to [email protected]

“We are not just focusing on weather here, though. We take a broad look at everything around the accident,” she added.

Homendy said that NTSB investigators expect to be on scene for around five days collecting perishable evidence. They are being assisted in that task by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, although “there is no criminal portion to this investigation,” she noted.

The Federal Aviation Administration has established a temporary flight restriction around the accident site, and drones are being used to map the wreckage. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has personnel patrolling the area on horseback and all-terrain vehicles to prevent incursions by the public, according to Sheriff Alex Villanueva.

Homendy shared some details about Zobayan, whom she described as “an experienced pilot.” A commercial helicopter pilot and flight instructor with instrument helicopter and instrument instructor ratings, Zobayan reported having 8,200 flight hours at the time of his most recent second class medical examination last July, she said.

Homendy emphasized during the press conference that NTSB investigators will not be determining the accident cause during their on-site investigation — that will be a much lengthier process. However, “I am very confident we’ll determine the cause of the accident,” she said.

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