LA county firefighters on the scene of a helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant in Calabasas, California, U.S., January 26, 2020.
Gene Blevins | Reuters
Federal safety investigators launched a probe on Sunday into a helicopter crash in the Los Angeles area that killed basketball legend Kobe Bryant and eight others, including his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna “Gigi” Bryant.
The helicopter, a Sikorsky S-76B, crashed in a hilly area in Calabasas, Calif. at around 9:47 a.m. PT, the National Transportation Safety Board member Jennifer Homendy said in a news conference at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. The cause of the crash has not yet been determined. Fog and low visibility was reported in the area but it was not immediately clear whether that was a factor in the crash.
The NTSB is sending a “go team” to the crash site and will evaluate the helicopter’s maintenance records, the pilot of the helicopter, who was killed in the crash, as well look into the owner and operator the S-76B, Homendy said. NTSB will have a team of 18 people, including a family assistance team and specialists in structures and engines, she said, adding that the team’s size is routine for this type of incident.
The investigators will also look into how many passengers the helicopter can carry. Because the team is flying from Washington and will arrive in California after sundown, it wasn’t clear how much work they would be able to do on Sunday.
The Sikorsky S-76 model enjoys a relatively strong safety record and has been flying for more than four decades. These choppers have been used by the oil and gas industry, executives and VIPs, the medical transportation industry, among others. What flight-tracking site Flightradar24 said was likely the helicopter Bryant was flying on, an S-76B, was built in 1991, according to FAA records.
The helicopter’s owner listed in the FAA’s records, Island Express Holding Corp could not immediately be reached for comment.
Sikorsky is a unit of Lockheed Martin. “We have been in contact with the NTSB and stand ready to provide assistance and support to the investigative authorities and our customer,” the manufacturer said in a statement. “Safety is our top priority; if there are any actionable findings from the investigation, we will inform our S-76 customers.”
The rate of helicopter accidents in the U.S. has plateaued over the last two years after previous declines, the United States Helicopter Safety Team, warned late last year. In January through November 2019 there were 21 fatal helicopter accidents, while there were 24 in 2018 and 20 in 2017, it said. In July last year, the organization called on helicopter pilots and operators to avoid hazards like flying too low and “get-there-itis,” continuing on a route despite bad weather or other challenges.