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NTSB: Pilot of Kobe Bryant's Helicopter Climbed to Avoid Cloud Layer


National Transportation Safety Board member Jennifer Homendy comments on the helicopter crash that killed former Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant and eight others, at the Lost Hills substation in Calabasas, Calif., Monday, Jan. 27, 2020.

The pilot of the helicopter that crashed and killed basketball superstar Kobe Bryant climbed to avoid a cloud layer just before slamming into a hillside, federal investigators say.

Jennifer Homendy of the National Transportation Safety Board said Monday the pilot received special clearance to fly in heavy fog, then minutes later advised air traffic controllers of the climb.

The controllers received no further reply from the pilot.

Homendy said radar data indicates the helicopter proceeded to climb several hundred meters before taking a left turn and descending, then crashing into the hills north of Los Angeles.

At a briefing Monday, she described the debris field as "extensive."

"A piece of the tail is down the hill, the fuselage is on the other side of that hill and the main rotor is about 91 meters beyond that," she said, adding that everything is looked at during the investigation -- the pilot, the aircraft, and the environment.

Federal rules do not require helicopters to carry black box flight data recorders like those used in commercial airliners.

People gather at a memorial for Kobe Bryant near Staples Center Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, in Los Angeles.
People gather at a memorial for Kobe Bryant near Staples Center Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, in Los Angeles.

Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were among nine killed in Sunday’s crash that stunned the sports world and left fans and his fellow athletes speechless.

The pilot also died along with Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli. The helicopter was heading to a youth basketball tournament in which Gianna Bryant was scheduled to play.

Kobe Bryant was 41 years-old and will be remembered as one of the greatest professional basketball players ever to step onto the court. He won five championships in his 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers and in 2008 was named the league's Most Valuable Player.

The National Basketball Association postponed Tuesday's scheduled game between the Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers.

"The decision was made out of respect for the Lakers organization, which is deeply grieving the tragic loss of Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven other people in a helicopter crash on Sunday," the league said.

Lakers star LeBron James, who passed Bryant to become the third leading scorer in NBA history on Saturday, posted a photo of himself and Bryant on Instagram late Monday along with a message saying he is "heartbroken and devastated."

Some of Bryant's accomplishments include becoming the NBA's youngest all-star in 1998, when he was only 19 years old; an 81-point game in 2006 – the second-highest of all time; and Olympic Gold medals in 2008 and 2012.