LOS ANGELES – There was no voice recorder in the helicopter that crashed in Calabasas, California, on Sunday, killing the National Basketball Association legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven other people who were on their way to a basketball tournament, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
“There wasn’t a black box, and there isn’t a requirement to have a black box” on this helicopter, Jennifer Homendy, a member of the NTSB, said at a news conference on Monday.
But there was an iPad in the helicopter that included the ForeFlight application, which pilots use while in the air to review flight plans, monitor weather briefings and more, she said.
Investigators would review the iPad and other evidence recovered from the crash site, which extended about 150-180 metres away from the centre of the wreckage.
“It was a pretty devastating accident scene,” Homendy said.
During the flight on Sunday morning, the fog was so thick that the pilot had to get special visual clearance from air traffic controllers before continuing on the route.
The Los Angeles Police Department had grounded its helicopters, but the pilot was licensed to fly in inclement weather and continued toward Bryant’s Mamba Academy in Thousand Oaks, California.
The helicopter lost contact with controllers at 9.45am, and two minutes later, witnesses called 911 and reported hearing the sound of whirring blades and a fire on the hillside.
The aircraft had smashed into a hill at 330 metres.
The investigation, which the NTSB is leading, will include a review of weather conditions, but it will encompass much more, Homendy said.
“We look at man, machine and the environment, and weather is just a small portion of that,” she said, adding that investigators would review records and evidence tied to the pilot, his company, the helicopter and its instruments, and more.
The pilot on board the helicopter, Ara Zobayan, learned to fly in 1998, after taking a sightseeing flight over the Grand Canyon.
He was certified not only to fly under instrument conditions – navigating with the use of instruments – but also to teach other pilots seeking to obtain their own instrument ratings.
And he had no accidents or enforcement actions on his record according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
So pilots who knew Zobayan were perplexed by the crash, describing him as an experienced and meticulous operator.
He had flown Bryant many times before.
“Super cautious, super smart,” an instructor said. “I can’t see him making this kind of mistake.”