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Probe Of Helicopter Crash That Killed NBA Star Will Take Months, NTSB Says


Authorities in California are investigating why a helicopter crashed near Los Angeles on Sunday. The accident killed all nine people onboard, including NBA star Kobe Bryant and his teenage daughter Gianna. Investigators are focusing on bad weather as a leading potential cause. NPR's Russell Lewis has the story.

RUSSELL LEWIS, BYLINE: When the Sikorsky S-76 helicopter took off from the John Wayne Airport in Orange County on Sunday, it didn't take long for the weather to deteriorate. As the pilot flew north, he encountered foggy, overcast skies and asked flight controllers for a special clearance to allow him to continue flying visually as the clouds closed in.


UNIDENTIFIED FLIGHT CONTROLLER #1: Van Nuys - Helicopter 2EchoX, with you for the special VFR transition. We are currently at 1,400.

LEWIS: This recording on captures flight controllers speaking to the pilot as he tried to fly around, above and under the clouds in the busy Southern California airspace.


UNIDENTIFIED FLIGHT CONTROLLER #2: 2EchoX-ray, you're still too low-level for a flight following at this time.

LEWIS: National Transportation Safety Board member Jennifer Homendy told reporters it was just after this the pilot radioed for the last time.


JENNIFER HOMENDY: The pilot advised they were climbing to avoid a cloud layer. When ATC asked what the pilot planned to do, there was no reply.

LEWIS: The helicopter then began a descending left-hand turn and crashed at high speed. Homendy says the pilot, a commercial flight instructor, was experienced, with more than 8,000 hours logged. She says the investigation will be lengthy.


HOMENDY: We take a broad look at everything around an investigation and around an accident. We look at man, machine and the environment, and weather is just a small portion of that.

LEWIS: The helicopter wasn't required to have a black box that would have recorded the flight instruments and conversations on the flight deck. So investigators will have to piece together why the pilot took off to begin with and why he continued on as the weather worsened.

Russell Lewis, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEWARE OF SAFETY'S "DOGS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Southern Bureau chief, Russell Lewis covers issues and people of the Southeast for NPR — from Florida to Virginia to Texas, including West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma. His work brings context and dimension to issues ranging from immigration, transportation, and oil and gas drilling for NPR listeners across the nation and around the world.