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California

Dense fog impaired visibility at time of crash that killed Kobe Bryant

Site of deadly helicopter crash in Calabasas
Emergency responders cover remains at the site of the crash that killed nine people, including Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, on Sunday in Calabasas.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Federal investigators are just beginning their inquiry into the cause of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven other people Sunday morning in Calabasas.

The chopper appeared to slam into the hillside and burst into flames.

Several experts have said the weather will probably be a key part of the initial investigation.

The crash occurred as dense fog blanketed the area of the crash.

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Los Angeles Police Department spokesman Josh Rubenstein said the department’s Air Support Division grounded its helicopters Sunday morning because of foggy conditions and didn’t fly until the afternoon.

“The weather situation did not meet our minimum standards for flying,” Rubenstein said.

Site of deadly helicopter crash in Calabasas
All nine people aboard the helicopter were killed when it crashed, authorities said. Dense fog at the time of the crash is likely to be a focus of the investigation.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

The fog “was enough that we were not flying,” he said. LAPD’s flight minimums are 2 miles of visibility and an 800-foot cloud ceiling, he said. The department typically flies two helicopters when conditions allow — one in the San Fernando Valley and one in the L.A. Basin, he said.

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The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department made a similar assessment about the fog and had no helicopters in the air Sunday morning “basically because of the weather,” L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said.

The crash occurred shortly before 10 a.m. near Las Virgenes Road and Willow Glen Street in Calabasas. Authorities received a 911 call at 9:47 a.m., and firefighters arrived to find that the crash had ignited a quarter-acre brush fire in steep terrain, said L.A. County Fire Chief Daryl Osby. Responders included 56 fire personnel — firefighters, a helicopter with paramedics, hand crews — and sheriff’s deputies.

The National Transportation Safety Board was dispatching a “go team,” a squad of investigators that responds to major accidents across the country, said Christopher O’Neil, an agency spokesman.

The first team was expected to arrive at the scene of the crash Sunday evening, O’Neil said. Leading the investigation is Jennifer Homendy, an NTSB member who oversaw the investigation of a fire aboard the dive boat Conception, which killed 34 people off Santa Cruz Island in September.

Kurt Deetz, a former pilot for Island Express Helicopters who used to fly Bryant in the chopper, said weather conditions were poor in Van Nuys on Sunday morning — “not good at all.”

The crash was more likely caused by bad weather than engine or mechanical issues, he said. “The likelihood of a catastrophic twin engine failure on that aircraft — it just doesn’t happen,” he said.

Judging from a public record of the flight path and the wide debris field, Deetz said that it appears the helicopter was traveling very fast at the time of impact, about 160 mph. After a 40-minute flight, Deetz added, the craft would have had about 800 pounds of fuel on board. “That’s enough to start a pretty big fire,” he said.


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