Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board use equipment to map the area in Calabasas, Calif., on Monday where a helicopter crash killed basketball star Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven other people. Photo courtesy of NTSB/Twitter
Jan. 28 (UPI) -- Officials on Tuesday completed recovering the bodies of all nine victims who died in the helicopter crash that killed NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter, the Los Angeles coroner's office said.
The Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner said response teams recovered three bodies Sunday, the day of the crash. It took until Monday for searchers to locate the other six occupants of the helicopter.
The bodies were transported to the county's Forensic Science Center.
Investigators worked to identify the nine victims, which included Kobe Bryant's 13-year-old daughter, Gianna Bryant.
The pilot of the helicopter made a rapid upward ascent to avoid a layer of clouds in the moments before it crashed into a hillside, the National Transportation Safety Board said.
NTSB official Jennifer Homendy said in an update the helicopter had been flying from Orange County to Ventura County in Southern California -- below 1,000 feet under special visual flight rules -- when the 29-year-old Sikorsky S-76 chopper slammed into a hillside in Calabasas.
The pilot told ground controllers he was making the upward maneuver in what would be the aircraft's final radio communication. Special visual flight rules allow pilots to fly lower than usual, most commonly due to poor visibility or poor weather conditions.
Fog had settled into the area early Sunday, officials said, and was so bad that the Los Angeles Police Department and Los Angeles Sheriff's Department barred their helicopters from flying in it. The pilot of Bryant's chopper flew in circles for 12 minutes before controllers granted him SVFR.
The pilot also requested radar assistance from the ground to help him avoid other air traffic in such reduced visibility, but controllers told him the helicopter was flying too low to be monitored.
The wreckage of the helicopter, which can accommodate about a dozen passengers, is at about 1,100 feet above sea level and is scattered over about 600 feet, Homendy added.
"There is an impact area on one of the hills, and a piece of the tail is down the hill," she said. "The fuselage is on the other side of that hill. Then the main rotor is about 100 yards beyond that."
Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant stands during a time out against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden in New York City during a game on January 26, 2014. Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna in Calabasas, Calif., on January 26, 2020. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
Kobe Bryant, 41, and Gianna were traveling from their home in Newport Beach to her basketball game at the Mamba Academy in Malibu when the chopper crashed. Six others associated with Bryant and his basketball academy were also aboard, plus the pilot.
Officials said the Sikorsky S-76 chopper was built in 1991 and does not have a prior history of crashes or mechanical incidents. Bryant often kept a chartered helicopter at Orange County's John Wayne Airport.
Authorities said it took days to locate the bodies due to the ruggedness of the terrain in which the chopper crashed. Sheriff's deputies have reached the area on horseback and even bulldozed a new road to get a vehicle in the vicinity.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said, due to intense interest in the crash, the public has been barred from accessing the wreckage site. Officials invoked an emergency ordinance that makes it a misdemeanor to trespass at the site.
As Bryant was mourned worldwide on Monday, the Los Angeles Lakers and NBA star LeBron James issued statements. James, a star forward for the Lakers, promised to continue Bryant's legacy, and the team announced the cancellation of a game with the Los Angeles Clippers, saying the aftermath of Bryant's death has been a "very difficult time."