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Investigation begins in helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, 8 others

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Posted at 6:15 AM, Jan 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-27 09:15:58-05

CALABASAS, Calif. (CNS) - A team from the National Transportation Safety Board planned to make its way Monday to the hard-to-access hillside in Calabasas to determine why a luxury helicopter crashed in deep fog, killing retired basketball star Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and all other seven occupants.

The crash, in the area of Las Virgenes Road and Willow Glen Street, was called in at 9:47 a.m. Sunday, said a watch commander at the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Lost Hills/Malibu station. The NTSB team flew to the area Sunday night.

Sheriff's officials said there were no survivors and that the crash sparked a small fire that was quickly extinguished.

The Los Angeles County Coroner's Office said it had a team of experts ready to begin the recovery of bodies and a massive refrigerated vehicle ready to transport the victims' bodies.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer said the stricken helicopter was a Sikorsky S-76B. It was flown by Ara Zobayan, an instrument-rated pilot who had more than 1,000 hours piloting the craft and was qualified to fly in fog. Friends were mourning him on social media, saying he taught aspiring helicopter pilots to fly.

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The craft was built in 1991 and owned by Island Express Holding Corp. The S-76 was designed for corporate transportation, especially within the oil industry, where executives were traveling between land and off-shore drilling platforms and was inspired by the UH-60 Black Hawk military helicopter, according to Business Insider.

The site says the helicopter's good safety record "has been largely attributed to its twin-turbine design, along with more rigorous training standards than some other civilian models, and the fact that it's frequently flown by two pilots, unlike most light helicopters." It was not immediately clear whether a second pilot was aboard Kobe Bryant' aircraft.

The helicopter took off from John Wayne Airport in Orange County at 9:06 a.m., records show. The crash occurred in foggy conditions, which prompted the Los Angeles Police Department to ground its helicopter fleet, the nation's largest such fleet. LAPD chopper flights began in the afternoon.

Bryant, 41, was on his way to a basketball game with daughter Gianna when the helicopter crashed.

All of the victims on the flight were reportedly from Orange County.

The helicopter company, meanwhile, released the following statement: "We extend our sincerest condolences to all those affected by today's Sikorsky S-76B accident in Calabasas, California. We have been in contact with the NTSB and stand ready to provide assistance and support to the investigative authorities and our customer."