Jan. 29 (UPI) -- The helicopter carrying basketball icon Kobe Bryant, his teenage daughter and seven others came within a matter of feet of clearing a fast-approaching hill when it crashed in Southern California last weekend, the National Transportation Safety Board said in an investigation update.
The NTSB said Tuesday night preliminary information indicates the Sikorsky S-76 chopper descended rapidly before impact, and crashed in one piece on the hillside in Calabasas, Calif., about 25 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles.
The accident, the agency noted, occurred at about 1,085 feet above sea level and missed the top of the hill by as few as 20 to 30 feet. Pieces of the chartered helicopter were scattered across 600 feet of terrain.
"The descent rate for the helicopter was over 2,000 feet a minute, so we know that this was a high energy impact crash," NTSB spokeswoman Jennifer Homendy told reporters."This is a pretty steep descent at high speed. So it wouldn't be a normal landing speed.
"It was a pretty devastating accident scene."
Investigators are closely looking into adverse weather conditions in the area when the helicopter crashed. A layer of fog was so thick that it grounded choppers from the Los Angeles Police Department and Los Angeles Sheriff's Department that morning.
Homendy said the NTSB previously recommended that terrain awareness and warning systems be installed on all passenger-carrying helicopters in the United States, but the Federal Aviation Administration never followed up on that recommendation. The chopper carrying the group with Bryant did not have the safety feature on board.
Homendy also said pilot Ara Zobyan requested to be tracked by ground controllers but the helicopter was flying too low for it to be seen on radar.
"When ATC asked the pilot what he planned to do, there was no reply," she said.
The NTSB said a first-stage investigative report on the crash will be released within the next 10 days, and a full report in 12 to 18 months.