Foggy conditions at center of Kobe Bryant helicopter crash probe

Foggy conditions at center of Kobe Bryant helicopter crash probeNew details emerged Monday surrounding the fatal helicopter crash in Southern California a day earlier that claimed the lives of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven other individuals, including the pilot.Authorities from the FAA and NTSB are investigating the deadly crash and the cause of the accident has not been determined, but the weather conditions at the time of the crash are figuring in some of the reports that have emerged.According to an audio recording obtained by CNN, the helicopter's pilot was given special clearance to operate the aircraft in unusually poor weather conditions.Bryant, 41, and Gianna, 13, were flying to a basketball tournament in Thousand Oaks. Gianna's assistant coach, her teammate, her teammate's parent, legendary baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife Keri, and their daughter, Alyssa, were all on the flight as well. Former Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna watch the U.S. national championships swimming meet Thursday, July 26, 2018, in Irvine, Calif. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson) Located in the southwest corner of the San Fernando Valley, Calabasas is situated 22 miles from downtown Los Angeles. According to data displayed by FlightRadar24, an aircraft-tracking site, the helicopter carrying Bryant took off from John Wayne Santa Ana Airport in Orange County at 9:06 a.m. PST in a privately owned Sikorsky S-76B helicopter.> Additional ADS-B data, including granular data reported at roughly twice per second, may be found at t.co/Zn91wZxzSf pic.twitter.com/GV2szF5g75> > — Flightradar24 (@flightradar24) January 26, 2020As the flight-tracking data showed, the pilot of the helicopter was forced to wait in a holding pattern for more than 10 minutes while communicating with air traffic controllers at Burbank Airport.According to an air traffic control audio conversation which was recorded by LiveATC.net, a website that streams live air traffic control communications online, the helicopter was operating under "Special Visual Flight Rules (SVFR)." SVFR clearance allows pilots to fly in weather conditions worse than those allowed for standard Visual Flight Rules (VFR). In the audio, the pilot can be heard confirming to the controller that he was to "maintain special VFR at or below 2,500" feet.But, according to the CNN report, the pilot was later told by the controller that the helicopter was still flying at too low a level for "flight following at this time." Flight following is a mechanism that allows pilots to stay in more regular contact with a controller in the air traffic control tower."The cloud ceiling was around 1,100 feet at the time of the crash. The visibility would have been poor even in fog-free areas for the pilot, who was flying between around 1,000 and 3,000 feet," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Frank Strait said."An onshore flow led to the development of low clouds and fog that settled in late Saturday evening for much of the area. The low clouds and fog remained in place through midday Sunday," AccuWeather Meteorologist Danielle Knittle explained. She added that wind speeds were very light at the time of the crash, "less than 5 mph."AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said this time of year is not the region's foggiest, but it can develop on occasion. "Fog is not uncommon in Southern California in the wintertime – outside of the 'June gloom' season," he said.CLICK HERE FOR THE FREE ACCUWEATHER APPIn a separate audio piece obtained by TMZ, a commander can be heard telling another aircraft that he has a "special VFR helicopter that has been in holding for about 15 minutes." In the flight-tracking data, the aircraft can be seen circling over Burbank from 9:20 to 9:33 a.m. before continuing its track.At 9:40 a.m., the helicopter turned west and less than five minutes later, began climbing more than 2,000 feet in an apparent attempt to put space between the hillside and the helicopter.Almost immediately, the helicopter began a sharp descent before crashing into a mountain near Malibu Creek. Firefighters work the scene of a helicopter crash Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020, in Calabasas, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill) The crash site is about 20 miles away from the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, where the helicopter was heading.The pilot was identified by KTLA reporter Christina Pascucci as Ara Zobayan. Pascucci, a licensed pilot herself, reported that Zobayan had an "instrument rating," which a helicopter pilot is required to have in order to fly in low visibility conditions."Southern California airspace is extremely busy, and they might tell you to wait an hour," Paul Cline, an assistant professor of aviation at the City University of New York, told New York Magazine, about why the chopper may have been stuck in a holding pattern. "You're just one of many waiting in line, and it doesn't matter if you're Kobe Bryant."Foggy conditions shrouded the region throughout the morning and early afternoon on Sunday, so severely that the Los Angeles Police Department grounded its helicopter, according to spokesman Josh Rubenstein."The weather situation did not meet our minimum standards for flying," Rubenstein confirmed to CNN. Los Angeles County Fire Department Chief Daryl Osby takes questions at a news conference Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020, in Calabasas, Calif. NBA legend Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash on a steep hillside in dense morning fog in Southern California on Sunday, his sudden death at age 41 touching off an outpouring of grief for a star whose celebrity transcended basketball. (AP Photo/Stefanie Dazio) Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said 56 fire personnel responded to the initial 911 call, which was placed at 9:47 a.m., local time."Upon arrival, our firefighters discovered approximately a quarter-acre brush fire that resulted from a crash on the hillside," Osby said. "Our firefighters on scene indicated that there was a debris field in steep terrain… The fire also included magnesium, which is very hard for firefighters to extinguish because magnesium reacts with oxygen and water."Eyewitnesses, such as Los Angeles times staff writer Richard Winton, described hearing the 'whir of helicopter blades.'"It was a foggy morning, with visibility at less than 60 feet," Winton wrote. "I looked toward a nearby window in my Calabasas home and heard a massive boom, followed by a few seconds of silence. Then a fireball erupted on a hillside off Las Virgenes Road."Another eyewitness, Jerry Kocharian, told Winton that he noticed the helicopter flying unusually low and struggling before its crash."It wasn't sounding right," Kocharian told Winton. "I saw it falling and spluttering, but it was hard to make out as it was so foggy… no one could survive that."To complicate matters, the residential community surrounding the crash site is nestled in a remote hillside above Calabasas. In a press conference on Sunday night, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said the ensuing efforts would be made more difficult by geographic and weather-related obstacles."Right now, it's a logistical nightmare in a sense because the crash site itself is not easily accessible," Villanueva said. "It is in very rough terrain, very dangerous even in daylight, much less in the middle of the night."Keep checking back on AccuWeather.com and stay tuned to the AccuWeather Network on DirecTV, Frontier and Verizon Fios.



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