NATIONAL NEWS

Audio: Helicopter Pilot Was Given Clearance To Fly Under Worse-Than-Normal Conditions

Jan 27, 2020, 12:25 PM
Local and federal authorities are investigating the Southern California helicopter crash that claim...
Local and federal authorities are investigating the Southern California helicopter crash that claimed the lives of nine people -- including 41-year-old NBA legend Kobe Bryant. (LA County Sheriff)
(LA County Sheriff)

(CNN) — Millions of people never met him, but the sudden death of Kobe Bryant and eight others has left a country in mourning.

The 41-year-old NBA legend died in a helicopter crash under foggy conditions in Calabasas, California. Visibility was so low Sunday morning that Los Angeles police had grounded its helicopters, spokesman Josh Rubenstein said.

The helicopter crashed into a hillside, killing all nine people on board — including Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna. The official cause of the crash has not been determined.

As fans around the world grapple with Bryant’s death, new clues are emerging about what happened shortly before the crash.

The helicopter was operating under “special visual flight rules” (SVFR), according to an air traffic control conversation with the pilot, captured by website LiveATC.net.

An SVFR clearance allows a pilot to fly in weather conditions worse than those allowed for regular visual flight rules (VFR).

Pilots can request SVFR clearance before takeoff or mid-flight, especially if conditions suddenly change, CNN transportation analyst Peter Goelz said.

While SVFR clearance is “pretty normal,” he said, “it’s not something that’s often recommended.”

“If you’re a pilot, and you’re in marginal conditions, or changing conditions that become marginal, you might call air traffic control” to request SVFR, Goelz said.

If granted SVFR clearance, the pilot will typically keep tighter communication with air traffic control.

The Burbank Airport control tower allowed the helicopter to proceed using the special clearance, the audio reveals.

“Maintain special VFR at or below 2,500” the pilot confirmed to the controller.

Later in the flight, the pilot apparently asked for “flight following,” a service in which controllers are in regular contract with an aircraft.

The controller told the pilot “you’re still too low level for flight following at this time.” That could mean the helicopter was too low to be seen on air traffic control radar.

While authorities try to determine what went wrong, investigators are struggling to find clues in difficult conditions.

“It’s a logistical nightmare in a sense because the crash site itself is not easily accessible,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said.

The effort to recover the victims’ bodies has started but could take days, given the terrain and the condition of the site, Los Angeles County Chief Medical Examiner Jonathan Lucas said.

Children and parents were on board

Bryant was traveling to a basketball game with Gianna, who was scheduled to play Sunday afternoon.

They were joined by Orange Coast College (OCC) baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife Keri and his daughter Alyssa, Altobelli’s brother told CNN.

Alyssa was Gianna’s teammate, OCC assistant coach Ron La Ruffa said. And Altobelli would routinely travel with his daughter for her basketball games.

OCC President Angelica Suarez said she was devastated by the loss of “a member of our OCC family.”

“Coach Altobelli was a giant on our campus — a beloved teacher, coach, colleague and friend,” Suarez said in a statement. “This is a tremendous loss for our campus community.”

Another parent, Christina Mauser, was also killed in the crash. Mauser was an assistant girls basketball coach for a private school in Corona del Mar, California.

“My kids and I are devastated. We lost our beautiful wife and mom today in a helicopter crash,” her husband Matt Mauser wrote on Facebook.

Fog blanketed the area

The crash occurred under foggy and cloudy conditions with extremely low visibility, CNN meteorologist Michael Guy said.

Pictures taken shortly after the crash showed the density of the fog.

Witnesses said the helicopter plummeted quickly before crashing on the hillside, Los Angeles County fire Capt. Tony Imbrenda said.

It was not immediately clear whether the Sikorsky S-76B helicopter radioed a distress signal, Imbrenda said.

Local authorities are working with the National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration to try to determine the cause of the crash.

Sikorsky, the helicopter manufacturer, tweeted its condolences.

“We extend our sincerest condolences to all those affected by today’s Sikorsky S-76B accident in Calabasas, California,” the company said.

“We have been in contact with the NTSB and stand ready to provide assistance and support to the investigative authorities … Safety is our top priority; if there are any actionable findings from the investigation, we will inform our S-76 customers.”

The helicopter was built in 1991 and was most recently registered to Island Express Holding Corp., according to the FAA.

Calls to Island Express were not answered Sunday.

A nation in shock and mourning

Devastated fans flooded an area near the crash site as well as Staples Center in Los Angeles, the city where Bryant spent his entire 20-year NBA career.

Born in Philadelphia, Bryant quickly soared to become one of basketball’s greatest champions. He won five NBA championships, before retiring in April 2016, capping his career by scoring 60 points in his final game.

Former Lakers Coach Phil Jackson called Bryant a “chosen one — special in many ways to many people.”

Bryant is survived by his wife, Vanessa, and his three other daughters — the youngest of which was born in June.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

National News

(Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)...
Associated Press

Police: 2 dead, 6 injured in stabbings along Las Vegas Strip

Police say an attacker killed two people and wounded six others in stabbings along the Las Vegas Strip.
6 hours ago
Hunter Biden leaves Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Johns Island, South Carolina, on August 13. Fede...
Evan Perez, Kara Scannell and Paul LeBlanc, CNN

Federal prosecutors weighing charges on two fronts in Hunter Biden investigation

Federal prosecutors believe they could charge Hunter Biden with tax crimes and a false statement but a final decision still has not yet been made.
1 day ago
Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the American Freedom Tour at the Austin Convention...
Kaitlan Collins, Katelyn Polantz and Tierney Sneed, CNN

Justice Department insists to Trump’s attorneys that he return all documents marked classified

Justice Department officials have demanded in recent weeks to former President Donald Trump's attorneys that he return any outstanding documents marked as classified.
1 day ago
UNSPECIFIED, GEORGIA - SEPTEMBER 28: Russians and Armenians seen with their luggage after crossing ...
BECKY BOHRER, Associated Press

2 Russians seek asylum after reaching remote Alaska island

Two Russians who said they fled the country to avoid military service have requested asylum in the U.S. after landing on a remote Alaska island.
1 day ago
The US military conducted a raid in northeast Syria targeting a senior ISIS official on October 5, ...
Oren Liebermann and Ellie Kaufman

US kills two top ISIS leaders in Syria airstrike

US forces killed two top ISIS leaders in an airstrike in northern Syria on Thursday, according to two defense officials, one day after a US raid killed an ISIS smuggler.
1 day ago
MIDDLETOWN, MD- OCTOBER: 20
Stephen Ferrone (left) and his son Stevie Ferrone, 16  carry Herman bac...
AJ Willingham, CNN

How a 12-foot skeleton became the hottest Halloween decoration around

There are two kinds of people: those who understand the allure of a 12-foot skeleton decoration, and those who have yet to understand the allure of a 12-foot skeleton decoration.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Hand turning a thermostat knob to increase savings by decreasing energy consumption. Composite imag...
Lighting Design

5 Lighting Tips to Save Energy and Money in Your Home

Advances in lighting technology make it easier to use smart features to cut costs. Read for tips to save energy by using different lighting strategies in your home.
Portrait of smiling practitioner with multi-ethnic senior people...
Summit Vista

How retirement communities help with healthy aging

There are many benefits that retirement communities contribute to healthy aging. Learn more about how it can enhance your life, or the life of your loved ones.
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to choose what MBA program is right for you: Ask these questions before you apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Cloud storage technology with 3d rendering drawer with files in cloud...
PC Laptops

How backing up your computer can help you relieve stress

Don't wait for something bad to happen before backing up your computer. Learn how to protect your data before disaster strikes.
young woman with stickers on laptop computer...
Les Olson

7 ways print marketing materials can boost your business

Custom print marketing materials are a great way to leave an impression on clients or customers. Read for a few ideas to spread the word about your product or company.
young woman throwing clothes to organize a walk in closet...
Lighting Design

How to organize your walk-in closet | 7 easy tips to streamline your storage today

Read our tips to learn how to organize your walk-in closet for more storage space. These seven easy tips can help you get the most out of your space.
Audio: Helicopter Pilot Was Given Clearance To Fly Under Worse-Than-Normal Conditions