The National Transportation Safety Board released its preliminary report into what caused the tragic helicopter crash on January 26 that killed nine people, including Lakers legend Kobe Bryant. Within the report is a new account from an eye witness who was hiking just 50 feet from where the chopper made impact with a hillside after a rapid decent.
“He said he began to hear the sound of a helicopter, which he described as appropriate for a helicopter flying while in a powered condition. He perceived the sound getting louder and saw a blue and white helicopter emerge from the clouds,” the report said.
“He judged it to be moving fast, travelling on a forward and descending trajectory. It started to roll to the left such that he caught a glimpse of its belly. He observed it for seconds 1 to 2 seconds, before it impacted terrain about 50 feet below his position.”
The report also concluded that the crash was not the result of engine failure, as was speculated previously. Some thought that because the helicopter descended rapidly after attempting to fly above the clouds and fog that there must have been some sort of mechanical malfunction. The NTSB ruled that out completely.
“The entire fuselage/cabin and both engines were subjected to a postcrash fire. The cockpit was highly fragmented. The instrument panel was destroyed and most instruments were displaced from their panel mounts. Flight controls were fragmented and fire damaged,” the report reads, detailing the extensive damage done to it.
USA Today has more details on the doomed flight:
Though it was outfitted with many luxury appointments, the NTSB said it lacked the helicopter version of a terrain awareness and warning system, or TAWS, which tells pilots if they are headed toward a hill or mountain obscured by clouds. Though the NTSB has recommended TAWS be required equipment aboard large passenger-carrying elements, it is still considered optional.
The helicopter carrying the retired NBA superstar and his party was flown up a canyon in Calabasas. Zobayan radioed air traffic controllers, having already received permission to transit controlled airspace with less than normal visibility, saying he was going to try to rise above the clouds. Investigators said he climbed to 2,300 feet above sea level, made a left turn and then crashed at high speed into the mountainside at 1,085 feet. The craft hit with such force that debris was scattered over a 600-foot area.