Federal investigators found no indication that engine failure contributed to the Calabasas helicopter crash that killed retired Laker legend Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter and seven others, according to a preliminary report released Friday by the National Transportation Safety Board.
“All significant components of the helicopter were located within the wreckage area,” according to the report. “Examination of the main and tail rotor assemblies found damage consistent with powered rotation at the time of impact.
“… Viewable sections of the engines showed no evidence of an uncontained or catastrophic internal failure,” according to the report. “The No. 2 engine first-stage compressor blades exhibited tip curl in the direction opposite of rotation, consistent with powered rotation at the time of impact.”
The preliminary report makes no conclusions on the cause of the crash, but gives a general summary of information gathered by investigators so far. The full review of the crash — and a determination on the cause — could take as long as 18 months.
“Our investigators have already developed a substantial amount of evidence about the circumstances of this tragic crash,” NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt said in a statement. “And we are confident that we will be able to determine its cause as well as any factors that contributed to it so we can make safety recommendations to prevent accidents like this from occurring again.”
Along with the 41-year-old Bryant and his daughter Gianna, also killed in the Jan. 26 crash were:
— John Altobelli, 56, longtime coach of the Orange Coast College baseball team, along with his wife, Keri, 46, and their 13-year-old daughter Alyssa, who was a teammate of Gianna on Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy basketball team;
— Sarah Chester, 45, and her 13-year-old daughter Payton, who also played with Gianna and Alyssa;
— Christina Mauser, 38, one of Bryant’s assistant coaches on the Mamba Academy team; and
— Ara Zobayan, 50, the helicopter pilot.
The helicopter, a Sikorsky SK76B, crashed shortly after 9:45 a.m. during a flight from John Wayne Airport in Orange County to Camarillo. The passengers aboard were heading to Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, where Bryant was scheduled to coach his daughter’s youth basketball team in a tournament game.
The NTSB preliminary report notes that “the entire fuselage/cabin and both engines were subjected to a postcrash fire.”
“The cockpit was highly fragmented. The instrument panel was destroyed and most instruments were displaced from their panel mounts,” according to the report.
The report echoes earlier information released by the NTSB, noting that the pilot contacted air-traffic controllers at about 9:45 a.m. “and advised he was climbing above cloud layers.” An air-traffic controller “asked the pilot his intentions, to which he replied he was climbing to 4,000 feet. There were no further transmissions.”
According to the report, radar data indicate the helicopter was flying about 1,500 feet above the Ventura (101) Freeway near Las Virgenes, then began turning left and began descending, reaching a descent speed of more than 4,000 feet per minute.
The report includes several photos of the crash area, some from stationary cameras in the area, one from a witness near the crash site and one from a security camera that shows the helicopter flying into clouds in the area.
It also includes a description from a witness who was on a mountain bike trail and told investigators he heard the helicopter approaching.
“He perceived the sound getting louder and saw a blue and white helicopter emerge from the clouds passing from left to right directly to his left,” according to the report. “He judged it to be moving fast, traveling on a forward and descending trajectory. It started to roll to the left such that he caught a glimpse of its belly. He observed it for 1 to 2 seconds, before it impacted terrain about 50 feet below his position.”