CALABASAS (CBSLA) — The National Transportation Safety Board Monday began its investigation into the Calabasas helicopter crash that killed nine people, including basketball legend Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.
On Monday morning, investigators began taking stretchers up the hillside where a Sikorsky S-76 helicopter carrying eight passengers and a pilot went down in Calabasas around 9:45 a.m. Sunday. They then returned back down with those stretchers — the remains headed to the coroner’s office.
Jennifer Homendy with the NTSB said the investigators’ on-site mission was to determine why and how the crash happened to prevent a similar accident from happening again. She said there was no black box on the helicopter and that it was not required to have one.
To aid them in their investigation, Homendy asked that anyone with photos of the weather in the area of the crash site around the time of the crash to email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also on the plane were beloved coaches and rising basketball stars, all on their way to a travel basketball game.
“As soon as I heard the impact, I knew exactly that they went into the side of the mountain,” Scott Daehlin, a witness, said.
When Daehlin heard the crash, he said he immediately ran outside and saw the burning wreckage still shrouded in fog.
“I expected to see at least the silhouette of something, but then there was nothing,” he said.
The crash site, in the area of Las Virgenes Road and Willow Glen Street, was blocked off, and Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva warned fans and mourners to stay out of the area, though a small memorial remained behind the barrier gates in spite of the warning.
On Monday afternoon, Villanueva said the crash site had been locked down by law enforcement and it has been made a misdemeanor to access the crash site. Only residents who live in the immediate area of the site would be permitted past the road blocks.
CBS News transportation correspondent Kris Van Cleave said preliminary flight data showed the helicopter climbed to 2,300 feet while making a left turn right before it crashed down.
“He’s climbing until suddenly he takes a steep dive,” he said. “Why did that happen?”
Van Cleave also said the pilot of the helicopter told air traffic control that he started to climb in an effort to get above the cloud layer.
“Why decide to fly,” he said. “Why not stop at Burbank or Van Nuys and wait out the weather?
The pilot, identified as Ara Zobayan, was an instrument-rated pilot and qualified to fly in fog, according to records. But fog was so thick and widespread that the LAPD grounded its own helicopters Sunday morning.
Van Kleave said NTSB investigators would certainly question the pilot’s decision-making while operating with less than ideal visibility, but he said they would also look into the helicopter itself.
“Did something go mechanically wrong with the helicopter?” he said. “Did the pilot, while up in the clouds, become disoriented? That can happen where people think what’s down is up and what’s up is down.”
And though many are hoping for immediate answers, the NTSB’s final report could take months before it’s finished.