CALABASAS, Calif. - Federal authorities began an investigation at sunrise Monday following the deadly Calabasas helicopter crash that claimed the lives of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, longtime baseball coach John Altobelli, and six others.
At a press conference on late Monday afternoon, National Transportation Safety Board member Jennifer Homendy says the agency is asking anyone who has photos depicting the weather conditions in the Calabasas area when Sunday's helicopter crash occurred to share them with investigators.
"We're here to conduct a safety investigation, and our mission is not to just determine what happened, but why it happened and how it happened to prevent a similar accident from ever happening again," NTSB board member Jennifer Homendy said.
According to Homendy, when the pilot approached Hollywood Burbank Airport on Sunday morning, he "requested to transit controlled airspace under special 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 they were too low for flight following.
Approximately four minutes later, the pilot advised they were climbing to avoid a cloud layer. When 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 9:45 a.m. and was consistent with the accident location."
The Sikorsky S-76B helicopter crashed into a hillside, and Homendy said it left a debris field that stretches between 500 and 600 feet.
Coroner's office officials said that the bodies of all nine people who died in the crash were recovered by Tuesday afternoon.
Sunday night, a coroner's Special Operations Response Team had recovered the remains of three people, and they were taken to the coroner's office for an examination and formal identification. The coroner team had to suspend the search due to darkness Sunday night, but efforts resumed Monday morning to recover the remains of the remaining victims.
The bodies of the additional six helicopter occupants were located and removed from the crash site Monday afternoon.
None of the victims has been formally identified by the coroner's office, but all have been identified by relatives and friends.
The NTSB said they will not determine the cause of the crash on the scene and will be investigating for at least five days.
Homendy reported drones were used Monday to map the crash scene, and FBI investigators were assisting with the collection of evidence, although it is not a criminal investigation.
She also said that the helicopter was not outfitted with a "black box" flight recorder, but it was not required to have one.
NTSB officials flew in from Washington and will conduct their investigation, along with forensic investigators and homicide detectives with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Federal investigators will take their first look at the wreckage and comb for clues as to why the crash happened.
There were no survivors and all nine victims have been identified by friends and family.
On Monday, it was revealed the Special Operations Response Team (SORT) with the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner recovered three bodies from the crash site Sunday afternoon, but suspended their efforts due to darkness and safety concerns, according to Sarah Ardalani, the department's Public Information Officer. The bodies were taken to the department's Forensic Science Center Sunday night.
The Los Angeles County coroner’s office will continue to search for human remains on the Calabasas mountainside in order to positively identify the victims.
Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers drives to the basket against the Denver Nuggets as the Nuggets defeated the Lakers 115-111 at the Pepsi Center on April 9, 2007 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Bryant is one of the most recognizable names associated with the NBA and the City of Los Angeles. He was an 18-time NBA All-Star and led the Los Angeles Lakers to five championships.
The basketball icon was also known for his philanthropic efforts off the court.
His 13-year-old daughter Gianna, better known as “GiGi,” developed a passion for the sport. She was a fierce scorer on the court and wanted to keep her dad’s basketball legacy alive.
Altobelli was the head baseball coach at Orange Coast College. He was known as "Coach Alto." His wife, Keri, and their daughter, Alyssa, were among the victims in Sunday’s crash.
The nine victims were headed to Mamba Sports Academy in Newbury Park, a town located to the west of Thousand Oaks, from Orange County's John Wayne Airport.
Sarah Chester and her daughter, Payton, were also on the luxury helicopter, considered to be a "limousine of the sky," at the time of the crash.
Also onboard was Christina Mauser, who sources say was a girl's basketball coach.
Gianna, Alyssa, and Payton were teammates on the Los Angeles Lady Mambas, coached by Kobe Bryant.
The Lady Mambas were scheduled to face other 14-under teams including the Fresno Lady Heat at the Mamba Cup basketball tournament held at the sports facility, KMPH reported.
Ara Zobayan was identified as the pilot of the Sikorsky S-76 aircraft. Officials say he was an experienced aviator.
Pictured left in black fleece is pilot Ara Zobayan.
Friends noted that, Zobayan, was instrument-rated --meaning he was qualified to fly in foggy and cloudy conditions -- and had more than 1,000 hours piloting the craft.
The first sign of trouble was at 9:44 a.m. Sunday when the air traffic controller told Zobayan he was flying too low. The helicopter crashed three minutes later and just 41 minutes after leaving the John Wayne Airport, officials said.
Bryant was a longtime Newport Beach resident and commonly commuted by helicopter to navigate Los Angeles traffic, he said in a FOX Sports interview.
The drive from Newport Beach to Mamba Sports Academy is approximately 90 miles.
Authorities say additional recordings between the air traffic controller and Zobayan indicate there was dense morning fog and poor visibility. Several witnesses also say they saw the chopper flying at a low altitude.
“The clouds were very thick and the cloud ceiling was very low. I had a sinking feeling in my stomach…minutes later, I heard the impact,” a witness told FOX 11.
The helicopter crashed near the intersection of Las Virgenes Road and Willow Glen Street in Calabasas, which is approximately 16 miles from Mamba Sports Academy in Newbury Park.
Los Angeles County firefighters hiked to the hillside site of the crash and other crews were airdropped to search for survivors.
Sunday was a somber day in Los Angeles as Kobe Bryant’s death coincided with the 62nd Grammy Awards that were hosted at the Staples Center, known as “The House that Kobe Built.”
Grammys host Alicia Keys opened the ceremony with a moment of silence in honor of Kobe before she, along with Boyz II Men sang “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye.”
Sports fans worldwide were stunned as many took to social media to share their reactions.
Thousands of Angelenos flocked to the Staples Center to honor the fallen legend.
Fellow NBA greats Shaquille O’Neal, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, and Michael Jordan were amongst those who sent their condolences, who all considered the Bryants like family.
Kobe Bryant, 41, leaves behind his wife, Vanessa, and their surviving daughters Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and Capri, 7 months.
The investigation is ongoing.
FOX 11 Digital Producer Shelly Insheiwat and CNS contributed.