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Kobe’s Helicopter Pilot Told the Tower He Was Navigating a Thick ‘Cloud Layer’ Minutes Before Crashing

Shortly before the fatal helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and eight others in Southern California on Sunday, the pilot told air traffic controllers he was climbing in altitude to avoid a cloud layer. That was the helicopter’s final transmission; minutes later, it crashed into a hillside, killing all on board. National Transportation Safety Board…

Kobe’s Helicopter Pilot Told the Tower He Was Navigating a Thick ‘Cloud Layer’ Minutes Before Crashing

Shortly before the fatal helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and eight others in Southern California on Sunday, the pilot told air traffic controllers he was climbing in altitude to avoid a cloud layer. That was the helicopter’s final transmission; minutes later, it crashed into a hillside, killing all on board.

National Transportation Safety Board member Jennifer Homendy detailed the communication between pilot Ara Zobayan and air traffic controllers in a press conference late Monday laying out the investigation into the cause.

When the private Sikorsky S-76B helicopter left Orange County bound for a girls basketball game 70 miles away in Thousand Oaks, it was operating under normal visual flight rules, indicating conditions were fine. Near Burbank, however, Zobayan requested to transit controlled airspace under special visual flight rules (SVFR); one Calabasas man described the fog at the time to the New York Times “as thick as swimming in a pool of milk.”

After a delay due to other air traffic, the control tower told Zobayan to proceed. “Follow the 5 freeway, maintain special VFR at or below 2500, follow [Interstate] 5 northbound,” the tower told Zobayan. And the pilot repeated that request back.

(Credit: VASAviation)

Zobayan requested “flight following,” or radar assistance from the air control tower. The tower, the Southern California Terminal Radar Approach Control, responded that the helicopter was too low. “72EX, say intentions,” the tower said, according to audio previously published by LiveATC.net. “You’re still too low level for flight following at this time.”

“Approximately four minutes later, the pilot advised they were climbing to avoid a cloud layer,” Homendy said. (This interaction was previously unheard in released audio.) “When ATC asked what the pilot planned to do, there was no reply. Radar data indicates the helicopter climbed 2,300 ft. and began a left descending turn.”

“Last radar contact was 9:45 a.m. and is consistent with the accident location,” Homendy said.

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READ: Kobe Bryant’s Helicopter Was Given ‘Special’ Permission to Fly Through Los Angeles Fog

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