Newly released 911 calls confirm Kobe Bryant’s doomed helicopter was flying in thick clouds before it crashed on Jan. 26, killing the NBA star, his daughter and seven others.
The calls to the Los Angeles County Fire Department detail just how bad visibility was as the helicopter collided with a hilltop in Calabasas, Calif., and burst into flames.
“I just heard a helicopter go over me approximately from Lost Hills Road on a south to easterly sweep. It went over my head. It’s thick in clouds. And then I just, I heard a pop, and it immediately stopped,” one witness on the ground told a dispatcher.
“That part of the top of the mountain is obstructed in clouds,” he added.
“It came right over me,” he explained. “I was just thinking to myself, if this guy doesn't have night vision, I mean, he was completely, he's completely IFR, instrument flight rules. He’s flying, and he’s got no visual.”
Another man on the ground thought the helicopter was actually a small plane because he couldn’t identify it through the clouds.
“I’m walking on the trail. I could hear the plane, I think it was, in the clouds. We couldn't see it. And then we just heard a ‘boom’ and a dead sound, and then I could see the flames,” he said.
Another man was standing outside an Erewhon grocery store when he called.
“A helicopter crashed into a mountain. We heard it. And now I’m looking at the flames,” the man told the dispatcher. “We’re looking at the flames right now on the hill.”
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the devastating crash and expected to release a preliminary report in the coming days.
At a press briefing last week, NTSB officials confirmed the chopper was not equipped with a terrain alarm system that might have alerted pilot Ara Zobayan that he was close to contacting the nearby hillside. Such a system was recommended but not required.
NTSB member Jennifer Homendy also said the pilot’s steep descent shortly before impact was at a rate of “over 2,000 feet per minute.”
“So we know this was a high-energy impact crash, and the helicopter was in a descending left bank,” Homendy said.
“This is a pretty steep descent at high speed, so it wouldn’t be a normal landing speed,” she said.