January 28, 2020
Investigators are focusing on what occurred in the moments before the helicopter crash that killed Lakers great Kobe Bryant and eight others in Calabasas on Sunday.
A reconstruction of the flight by The Times tracks the helicopter’s path starting at a crucial moment near the end when the pilot left the San Fernando Valley above the 101 Freeway. Bryant and eight others were headed to Camarillo for a basketball event. Fog and cloudy weather had descended on the region, limiting visibility.
The analysis relies on data from aircraft-tracking firm Flightradar24.com. The altitude figures are preliminary, and federal investigators have declined to comment in detail about the helicopter’s flight path.
On its route west, the Sikorsky S76-B traveled above the freeway at about 160 mph. Near Mureau Road, the helicopter appears to have come within a few hundred feet of striking a series of hills, a Times analysis of publicly avalaible flight data shows. How close is not precisely clear without more detailed data.
For reasons that aren’t fully known, the pilot then climbed rapidly — roughly 875 feet in less than one minute — and slowed the helicopter to about 125 mph. It is unclear why he made this decision, but federal investigators say that at one point during the final minutes of the flight he said he was ascending to avoid a layer of clouds.
The helicopter then diverged from its path by turning left, and began a rapid descent over Las Virgenes Road. It appears the pilot had lost contact with air traffic control by this point, according to radio recordings reviewed by The Times.
The 11,000-pound helicopter, now traveling at about 175 mph, crashed into a hillside east of a local water district facility, scattering wreckage over an area of about 600 feet.
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The Times relied on data compiled by Flightradar24.com, a firm that tracks more than 140,000 flights globally each day. The records show the helicopter’s geographic path but also its corresponding altitude, heading and speed along the way. The analysis and maps also relied on three-dimensional rendering and imagery courtesy of Google Earth. Visibility conditions on the day of the crash differed.
Los Angeles Times staff photographer Al Seib contributed reporting.