Bodies of Kobe Bryant, 8 other victims recovered from helicopter crash scene
CALABASAS, CALIF. - Wreckage from the helicopter crash that killed Laker legend Kobe Bryant and eight other people was removed from a Calabasas hillside on Tuesday and hauled away for closer examination by federal investigators, while coroner's officials confirmed they have recovered the remains of everyone aboard the ill-fated flight.
Although all nine victims have been publicly named by relatives and friends, the coroner's office officially identified four of them, including the 41-year-old Bryant. The coroner also formally identified John Altobelli, 56; Sarah Chester, 45; and the helicopter pilot, Ara Zobayan, 50.
The coroner's office was still working to formally identify the remaining passengers, but they were:
-- Bryant's 13-year-old daughter, Gianna;
-- Altobelli's wife, Keri, 46, and their 13-year-old daughter Alyssa, who was a teammate of Gianna on Bryant's Mamba Sports Academy basketball team;
-- Chester's 13-year-old daughter Payton, who also played with Giannaand Alyssa; and
-- Christina Mauser, 38, one of Bryant's assistant coaches on the Mamba Academy team.
While the coroner continued its work, National Transportation Safety Board investigators used helicopters to recover the wreckage of the aircraft and load it onto a flatbed truck for a closer examination.
The Sikorsky S-76B helicopter crashed at about 9:45 a.m. Sunday in the area of Las Virgenes Road and Willow Glen Street. The helicopter, which departed from John Wayne Airport in Orange County, was bound for Camarillo, with the passengers on board heading to the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, where Bryant was set to coach his daughter's team in a tournament game.
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NTSB board member Jennifer Homendy said the federal on-site investigation has concluded, although it could be 12 to 18 months before afinal report is issued and a determination of the cause of the crash is made.
As she briefed the media Tuesday afternoon, she leveled some criticism at the Federal Aviation Administration for failing to implement a pair of recommendations made by the NTSB in response to past helicopter crashes.
One of those recommendations would have required a terrain awareness and warning system, or TAWS, to be installed on such helicopters. The other would have required to that helicopters include cockpit voice recorders and flight data recorders.
The Sikorsky that crashed Sunday had none of that equipment, she said.
She noted, however, it was unclear if the TAWS system would have prevented the crash, saying only it "could have helped to provide information to the pilot on what terrain the pilot was flying in." She said earlier that the pilot, trying to climb over some clouds, ascended to about 2,300 feet but then went into a sharp descent. The helicopter crashed into a hillside about 1,085 feet above sea level, she said.
NTSB officials said the helicopter missed clearing the hillside by about 20 or 30 feet, but there are multiple rises in the area, so there's no guarantee the aircraft wouldn't have crashed in a different area if it had managed to avoid the hill it struck.
Homendy said previously that the pilot had an iPad with aviation software on it, and investigators recovered an iPad in the wreckage, but it's still unclear if it was the pilot's.
She also said the same pilot, Zobayan, flew the same helicopter on the same journey from John Wayne Airport to Camarillo on Saturday, although it was unclear if Bryant was aboard.
The Saturday flight -- apparently uneventful -- followed a different flight path and was flown about an hour later in the dayand in much more clear weather.
Dense fog enveloped many parts of the Southland Sunday morning, sparking speculation that the low visibility contributed to the crash.
Homendy also said she held a conference call Tuesday with relatives ofthe victims, but she declined to comment on the nature of the call or who participated. She said such calls are done in all investigations to explain to relatives the next steps in an investigation and alert them to information about the crash before it is made public.
According to Homendy, when the pilot approached Hollywood Burbank Airport Sunday morning, he "requested to transit controlled airspace underspecial visual flight rules," which would allow him to fly at less than the normal minimums of 1,000 feet and three miles of visibility. The helicopter circled for 12 minutes while awaiting approval from air-traffic controllers, but the request was granted, she said.
"The helicopter transited the Burbank and Van Nuys airspace at 1,400 feet, and proceeded south, then west," Homendy said. "The pilot requested`flight following' (radar assistance) to continue to Camarillo, but (air-traffic controllers) advised the pilot that he was too low for flight following. Approximately four minutes later, the pilot advised he was climbing to avoid a cloud layer. When (air-traffic control) asked what the pilot planned to do, there was no reply.
Radar data indicates the helicopter climbed to 2,300 feet, then began a left-descending turn. Last radar contact was around 9:45a.m. and was consistent with the accident location."
Homendy said the weather conditions will be part of the crash investigation, and she asked that anyone who has photographs of the weather conditions in the Calabasas area around the time of the crash to send copies to firstname.lastname@example.org.
She said Tuesday investigators were looking through thephotos and videos that have been submitted, but noted that some people havebeen sending in pictures "that are not of this helicopter or even in this country."
Friends noted that the pilot, Zobayan, was instrument-rated -- meaning he was qualified to fly in foggy and cloudy conditions -- and had more than1,000 hours piloting the craft.
According to Island Express Helicopters, which owned the aircraft that was chartered by Bryant, Zobayan was the company's "chief pilot."
"Ara has been with the company for over 10 years and has over 8,000 flight hours," according to the company.
Homendy said Island Express is among the agencies taking part in the crash investigation, along with the NTSB, Federal Aviation Administration, helicopter-manufacturer Sikorsky, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and aircraft engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney Canada.
The crash site has been cordoned off by the sheriff's department, accessible only to area residents with identification, and the airspace above it has been declared a no-fly zone.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva said the department has deputies on horseback patrolling the rugged area, noting that people have been trying to sneak into the area, some crawling through the brush in hopes of avoiding detection.
Bryant, the son of former NBA star Joe "Jellybean" Bryant -- joined the Lakers straight out of his Philadelphia-area high school in 1996. He led the Lakers to five NBA championships and was a perennial All-Star.
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Bryant and his wife Vanessa, who wed in 2001, had four daughters, Natalia, 17, Gianna, 13, Bianca, 3, and Capri, 7 months.
Bryant famously preferred to travel by helicopter, once telling GQ magazine that he would fly to home games so he could arrive fresh -- instead of lingering in Los Angeles' notorious traffic for hours.
The Lakers had been scheduled to play the Clippers at Staples Center Tuesday night, but the game was postponed to allow the team to continue grieving Bryant's death.
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John Altobelli was scheduled on Tuesday to begin his 28th year coaching the Orange Coast College baseball team. The team went forward with its season-opening game. Players practiced Monday, and installed a banner in honor of Altobelli on the left-field wall of the college stadium.
Mauser was a mother of three children, aged 11, 9 and 3. She and her husband previously coached the girls' basketball team at Harbor Day School in Corona del Mar, where Gianna was one of their players.
"I got three small kids and am trying to figure out how to navigate life with three kids and no mom," Matt Mauser told NBC's "Today" show on Monday.
Matt Mauser said Bryant chose his wife as an assistant coach "to teach the kids defense.
They called her the mother of defense."
Payton Chester also played on Bryant's Mamba Academy team, and was being accompanied to the game by her mother, Sarah.
Todd Schmidt, the former principal of Harbor View Elementary School in Corona del Mar, which Payton attended through fifth grade, paid tribute to the girl and her mother on Facebook.
"While the world mourns the loss of a dynamic athlete and humanitarian, I mourn the loss of two people just as important," Schmidt said.
"Their impact was just as meaningful, their loss will be just as keenly felt, and our hearts are just as broken."
A family friend said Payton was attending St. Margaret's Episcopal School in San Juan Capistrano.