Kobe Bryant Crash: Federal Safety Inspector Says Pilot Climbed To Avoid Clouds Shortly Before Hitting Hillside

Investigators work at the scene of the helicopter crash on Jan. 26, in Calabasas, California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

A federal investigator said Monday that the pilot flying the helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant, Bryant's daughter and six other passengers had climbed to avoid a cloud layer shortly before it crashed into a hillside in Calabasas.

"Radar data indicates the helicopter climbed to 2,300 feet and then began a left descending turn," said National Transportation Safety Board member Jennifer Homendy during a news conference about Sunday's crash. "Last radar contact was around 9:45 a.m. and is consistent with the accident location."

Before the crash, the pilot, Ara Zobayan, had requested "flight following," which is assistance by radar to help a pilot avoid air traffic. But an air traffic controller told the pilot he was flying too low for flight following, according to recordings of the communications.

Homendy called the scene of the crash, which she visited Monday morning, "pretty devastating," and said debris was spread across 500- to 600-feet of terrain.

"A piece of the tail is down the hill on the left side of the hill," she said. "The fuselage is over on the other side of that hill, and then the main rotor about 100 yards beyond that."

She said the "impact crater" on the hill was 1,085 ft. above sea level.


ESSAY: 'I Am Straight Up In Tears Right Now.' Why Kobe Bryant's Death Hurts So Much

READ MORE: What We Know About The 9 People Who Died


Homendy said the investigation into the crash that killed all nine people aboard had just begun She asked for witnesses to send photos of weather conditions in the area around the time of the crash to witness@ntsb.gov.

"We're not just focusing on weather here, though," she said. "We look at man, machine and the environment, and weather is just a small portion of that.

Homendy said there was no black box in the helicopter and that there wasn't a requirement for the helicopter to have one.

She said NTSB investigators would spend about five days collecting perishable evidence from the scene of the crash.