The pilot of the helicopter carrying basketball legend Kobe Bryant was warned he was “too low” before the aircraft crashed into a California hillside, it emerged today.
Audio between the pilot and air traffic control revealed the efforts made to guide the aircraft before contact was lost in thick fog. All nine on board, including Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna, died in the fireball crash.
As an investigation was launched into yesterday’s accident, tributes poured in for the NBA star who played for more than 20 years for the Los Angeles Lakers before retiring in 2016 and was considered one of the greatest in the game’s history.
Former President Barack Obama led the outpouring of grief, tweeting: “Kobe was a legend on the court… To lose Gianna is even more heartbreaking to us as parents. Michelle and I send love and prayers to Vanessa (Bryant’s wife) and the entire Bryant family on an unthinkable day.”
In a glittering career he won five NBA championships, two NBA Finals, MVP titles and 18 All-Star titles. He famously scored 81 points in a single game against the Toronto Raptors in 2006.
It emerged today that the fog was so bad that the Los Angeles Police Department’s helicopter fleet had been grounded at the time of the crash, just north of the city around 10am local time. “The weather situation did not meet our minimum standards for flying,” said LAPD spokesman Josh Rubenstein, who added there must be at least two miles of visibility and an 800-foot cloud ceiling for police helicopters to take off.
The accident happened while Bryant, 41, was travelling with a group of friends in his private Sikorsky S-76 to coach at a tournament in Thousand Oaks, California. The helicopter had taken off from John Wayne Airport, near Bryant’s Orange County home, at 9.06am yesterday. Rescue services got an emergency call at around 9.47am when it is believed the aircraft crashed at about 160mph into a steep hillside at Calabasas, a few miles from its destination.
In the air traffic audio recording, the controller is heard telling the pilot, named by friends as Ara Zobayan: “You are too low level for flight following at this time.” The term is understood to mean the controller was no longer able to read the helicopter on the radar. Radar contact with air traffic control is then lost.
Photo Credit: Getty