Tower communication, satellite images detail Kobe Bryant's helicopter flight path

Phillip Palmer Image
Thursday, January 30, 2020
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Through tower communication and satellite images, Eyewitness News took a closer look at the flight path of the helicopter Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others were on.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The plan for the helicopter that Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others were on was to fly north from Orange County, but the foggy morning that set in across Southern California on Sunday forced some changes.

Through tower communication and satellite images, Eyewitness News was able to piece together a pretty good idea of the desired route, and where a change of direction had fatal consequences.

The departure from John Wayne Airport seemed to be as scheduled.

Flight data indicates the path into the Glendale-Burbank area where the pilot was forced to circle about seven times.

Though the circling was time consuming, it was not necessarily an indicator of trouble.

MORE: Full flight path simulation from the helicopter crash

You can hear on the audio between pilot and air traffic control, the pilot was given special visual flight rules clearance. That clearance is not uncommon. For instance, part of the delay for Bryant's flight was another helicopter in the area.

Aviation analyst John Nance put it in perspective.

"Special VFR doesn't mean you're special as a pilot, or who you're carrying, it's for any aircraft, any pilot who requests it under certain conditions," he said. "It's been around for a very long time."

The chopper was actually videotaped circling Glendale.

The man who shot the video says he was stunned to later learn this helicopter crashed in Calabasas.

Calabasas helicopter crash: What we know about all 9 victims

Shortly after that video was taken, the pilot was advised to follow the 5 Freeway, maintaining special VFR.

After receiving permission to turn southwest for the 101, the chopper's path veered away from the freeway, still roughly 15 miles from the Mamba Sports Academy.

Control tower audio transmission reads: "Helicopter 72EX, you're still too low level for flight following at this time."

Scott Reiff from AIR7 HD has flown the intended path and is very familiar with the weather Sunday morning.

"I live close by, the weather was very bad, the visibility was bad and even worse - the ceiling was low, which means the helicopter was trying to squeeze by because of weather conditions," Reiff said. "Very low, above the terrain to get through this pass here, and that's where the crash occurred."

Reiff offers more perspective. He said AIR7 HD offers a very clear view of the surroundings, below and through the windshield.

But the S-76 has a huge instrument panel and the pilot is much more limited, in regard to visibility, which makes it even more difficult to fly low through some of those areas.