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Retired NBA Champion, CEO, Kobe Inc., Kobe Bryant speaks onstage during 2016 Milken Institute Global Conference at The Beverly Hilton on May 03, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California.

Why Did Kobe Bryant’s Helicopter Crash? Investigators Look At Whether Fog Played Role

Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna Bryant and seven other passengers died in a helicopter crash Sunday on their way to Bryant’s youth basketball academy in California. An investigation of the incident is ongoing but the helicopter that perished was given special approval to fly in foggy weather, according to the New York Times.

The helicopter initially took off from Orange County Sunday morning and was still airborne in Burbank as the pilot waited for clearance to continue flying. According to audio records between the pilot and the Burbank airport obtained by the New York Times, the helicopter was granted Special Visual Flight Clearance to continue flying in the vicinity of Burbank and Van Nuys, however, the pilot was allegedly not given “blanket clearance” to fly into the Calabasas area where the helicopter crashed, according to a Federal Aviation Administration official.

Following the crash, Bryant’s Sikorsky S-76 helicopter ignited a brush fire as debris was dispersed over a quarter acre of land.

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“A pilot is responsible for determining whether it is safe to fly in current and expected conditions, and a pilot is also responsible for determining flight visibility,” said the official.

The pilot had asked for “flight following” which allows air traffic control to track the flight and be in constant contact, but the helicopter was “too low level for flight following at this time,” an air traffic control official said before losing radio contact.

Scott Daehlin a witness that was attending mass near the crash site Sunday morning, told the Times the fog outside was “as thick as swimming in a pool of milk.” He later added, “I couldn’t see anything, not even a silhouette,” he said as he looked across the street at the nearby mountainside where the crash occurred. “My first thought was what in the world is a helicopter doing out here in this fog?”

The Los Angeles Police Department and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department both grounded their helicopter fleets because they determined the weather was too dangerous to fly in, according to the Los Angeles Times.  “The weather situation did not meet our minimum standards for flying,” a Los Angeles police spokesman Josh Rubenstein said.

“We’ll be looking at maintenance records of the helicopter,” said Jennifer Homendy, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board. “We will be looking at records of the owner and operator of the helicopter and a number of other things.”

The chief medical examiner for Los Angeles County, Dr. Jonathan R. Lucas also told the New York Times, “We will be doing our work thoroughly, quickly and with the utmost compassion,” Lucas said. “We’re doing everything we can to confirm identifications and give closure to the families involved.”

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