A video that appears to show Kobe Bryant’s helicopter circling over California roughly 15 minutes before the fatal crash has been posted online, illustrating the foggy conditions faced by the chopper on its last flight.
In the video, which was posted by a user on Twitter who said they live in the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale — where Bryant’s flight circled for roughly 10 minutes on Sunday awaiting instruction, according to flight records — the helicopter can be seen moving slowly in the sky above, obscured by the early morning fog.
“I try and video/photograph all the weird stuff happening above my house in Glendale, CA,” the account, @theironlydreams, wrote. “Unfortunately this morning I didn’t realise I was filming the helicopter Kobe Bryant, his daughter and others were in 31 minutes before they crashed. RIP”.
Flight data shows that Bryant’s helicopter circled near Glendale for roughly 11 minutes as it awaited instruction from air traffic control after foggy flight conditions worsened after takeoff.
Then, just after 9.45am local time, the helicopter crashed into the Los Angeles area hillside near Calabasas, even though air traffic control had not heard any sign of distress from the chopper. The aircraft was flying under special visual flight rules.
The pilot of the chartered luxury Sikorsky S-76B helicopter, Ara Zobayan, is said to have been highly experienced, and the chief pilot for the helicopter’s owner, Island Express Helicopters.
But, even experienced pilots only have moments to react when conditions are unclear, and that people can become disoriented in foggy conditions. Helicopters are handy because they can fly in poor weather and at low altitudes, so long as they have “reasonable” visibility of at least one mile. At 120 miles-per-hour, though, that gives a pilot just 30 seconds to react.
The flight path of Bryant’s helicopter shows that the pilot had chosen a path that stayed close to major freeways, and that the aircraft was cruising at an altitude of just over 1,000 feet. Its last recorded speed was 152 miles-per-hour.
“In that area of the San Fernando Valley you have mountains on either side of you … and the clouds have obscured them, and you don’t have that much room to manoeuvre,” Robert Ditchey, a longtime airplane pilot and aeronautical engineer, told USA Today.
Randy Waldman, a helicopter instructor in Los Angeles, told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat that he believes the fog may have disoriented Zobayan, who had flown other prominent celebrities before including Kylie Jenner, and had more than 8,000 hours of flight time.
“Once you get disoriented your body senses completely tell you the wrong thing. You have no idea which way is up or down,” he told that newspaper. “If you’re flying visually, if you get caught in a situation where you can’t see out the windshield, the life expectancy of the pilot and the aircraft is maybe 10, 15 seconds.”
Bryant and Zobayan died alongside the basketball star’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna, as well as seven others.