Investigation shows no sign of engine failure in fatal helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant

Officials announced on Friday that there was no evidence of engine failure from the Jan. 26 helicopter crash that claimed the lives of former Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others in Calabasas, California.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, evidence shows that a tree branch at the crash site was sliced by a rotor blade, indicating that the engine was functioning as the helicopter made impact into a hillside on a foggy Southern California day.

Investigation ongoing

The NTSB continues to investigate the crash and any role fog played in the fatal accident. A full report on the investigation isn’t expected for at least a year, according to the Associated Press.

The crash occurred as Bryant was traveling with Gianna and others to a youth basketball tournament at the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, outside of Los Angeles. Bryant’s death came as a shock to the basketball world, a Los Angeles community that adored him and beyond.

Company suspended operations

Island Express Helicopters, the company that operated the Sikorsky S-76 helicopter that crashed, suspended operations last week.

The New York Times reported that same day that Island Express did not have proper certification for its pilots to fly in poor visibility conditions. The helicopter was equipped with a sophisticated system to allow pilots to navigate foggy conditions when visual conditions were suboptimal, according to the report.

Investigators have concluded that the helicopter in the crash that killed Kobe Bryant did not suffer engine failure. (James Anderson/National Transportation Safety Board via AP)
Investigators have concluded that the helicopter in the crash that killed Kobe Bryant did not suffer engine failure. (James Anderson/National Transportation Safety Board via AP)

Pilot was experienced

Pilot Ara Zobayan, who was one of the nine who perished in the crash, was certified to use the navigation system. But the company did not have the proper permits to allow its pilots to fly at low altitudes without at least a half-mile of daytime visibility, according to the Times.

Zoboayan, 50, had 8,200 hours of flight time and had received satisfactory grades in a 2018 review that tested his ability to respond after inadvertently flying into bad weather conditions, according to AP.

Helicopter not equipped with warning system

The helicopter also lacked the Terrain Awareness and Warning System (TAWS) that could have alerted Zobayan that he was approaching the hillside before the crash. It’s not clear if the presence of TAWS would have prevented the crash, but an NTSB representative said after an initial assessment that the system could have helped.

“Certainly, TAWS could have helped to provide information to the pilot on what terrain the pilot was flying in,” NTSB representative Jennifer Homendy said on Jan 28.

Homendy also said that the NTSB recommended in 2006 that all helicopters capable of carrying six or more passengers be equipped with TAWS, but that it wasn’t a legal requirement after the Federal Aviation Administration didn’t follow the recommendation.

California’s U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman are among those calling for the FAA to require TAWS in passenger helicopters in the wake of the fatal crash.

The city of Los Angeles plans to celebrate Bryant’s memory on Feb. 24, a symbolic date that incorporates Gianna’s basketball jersey No. 2 and Bryant’s No. 24 he wore with the Lakers.

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