US basketball legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna are among nine people killed in a helicopter crash in the city of Calabasas, California.
Kobe Bryant’s helicopter pilot was told he was ‘too low’ as he flew through thick fog which had forced Los Angeles police to ground their fleet, moments before crashing into a hillside in a disaster which killed all nine on board.
The 41-year-old NBA legend and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna died along with seven others yesterday when the Sikorsky S-76 came down in Calabasas, California, and immediately caught fire.
Flight data shows the aircraft appeared to get into trouble above the LA Zoo, where it circled for 15 minutes at a very low altitude before slamming into a hillside at around 10am.
In air traffic control audio which was recorded shortly before the crash, the pilot of the former Lakers star’s helicopter is told by a controller that ‘you’re still too low level’ to be tracked by radar.
This did not appear to be a sign of distress, because the helicopter was actually ascending at the time and the controller was referring to the technical difficulty with reading data rather than warning of an imminent crash.
Los Angeles Police Department spokesman Josh Rubenstein confirmed that the force’s Air Support Division was grounded yesterday, adding: ‘The weather situation did not meet our minimum standards for flying.’
The cause of the crash is under investigation but the helicopter is known to have turned south towards a mountainous area at around 9.40am, before contacting the control tower at Burbank Airport shortly before 10am.
Five minutes later it hit the hillside at 1,700 feet, near the home of Kourtney Kardashian.
One eyewitness said they ‘didn’t hear any anomalies with the engine’, while a pilot who had previously flown Bryant on the very same helicopter said the aircraft was in ‘fantastic condition’.
Bryant, 41, was believed to be heading to the Mamba Academy he founded in Thousand Oaks, for a youth tournament involving his daughter and her team-mates Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester. Alyssa and Payton were also killed in the crash alongside Alyssa’s parents John and Keri Altobelli, Payton’s mother Sarah Chester, girls’ basketball coach Christina Mauser and pilot Ara Zobayan.