A US investigator has given new insight into the devastating helicopter crash that killed NBA legend Kobe Bryant and eight others, saying the aircraft missed clearing the Californian hillside by just six to nine metres and plummeted towards the ground at high speed.
Jennifer Homendy from the National Transport Safety Board (NTSB) revealed the helicopter was missing a vital warning system and was flying at just 700 metres when it lost communication and fell at a rate of 60 metres a minute towards the ground, reports news.com.au.
"So we know that this was a high energy impact crash," she said at a press conference on Tuesday. "This is a pretty steep descent at high speed."
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The Sikorsky S-76 helicopter missed clearing the mountain by just six to nine metres (20 to 30 feet) and was not equipped with vital software that alerts pilots when aircraft are too close to the ground, she said.
The terrain awareness and warning system (TAWSE), which is designed to send a warning when a collision appears imminent, is not mandatory on helicopters under Federal Aviation Administration regulations.
But the NTSB recommended that it be made so on all helicopters with six or more passenger seats following a 2004 crash.
"Certainly, TAWSE could have helped, Homendy said, adding that she could not conclude that its use would have prevented the crash.
Federal investigators have now finished their inspection of the crash site, handing it over to local authorities.
Images showed them flying drones over the accident site and manually combing through twisted, charred wreckage, which was scattered over a wide area.
Officials also used drones to replicate the helicopter's final, fateful flight path, Homendy said.
Investigators have now airlifted the helicopter's wreckage onto trucks, which then transported it to a secure location for further examination.
An iPad, cellphone and maintenance records were found among the wreckage, along with "everything we would expect would be on the aircraft," said Homendy.
But the NTSB will not be able to confirm a probable cause until at least a year.
"In 10 days we're going to issue a preliminary report … in 12–18 months we hope to have a final report which will include findings, recommendations and a probable cause," Homendy said.
Bryant's body identified
Medical examiners identified the body of Lakers star Bryant after recovering the remains of all nine of those who died in the crash near LA, officials said on Tuesday.
Bryant's body was officially identified along with three others using fingerprints, two days after their helicopter crashed into a rugged hillside northwest of the city.
The coroner's office confirmed all nine bodies had been retrieved from the site and "transported to the department's forensic science centre" for examination.
The bodies of pilot Ara Zobayan, baseball coach John Altobelli and Sarah Chester have also been identified.
The remaining five – including Bryant's 13-year-old daughter Gianna – have not yet been officially identified.
The death of Bryant – a five-time NBA champion for the LA Lakers and double Olympic gold medallist – has shocked the world, with tributes continuing to pour in Tuesday.
He was travelling with daughter Gianna and seven other passengers and crew when the Sikorsky S-76 slammed into a hillside in thick fog.
The helicopter was headed to Bryant's Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, where his daughter was set to play.
"Heartbroken and devastated"
The other passengers on the flight – who have not yet been officially identified – have been named as Altobelli's wife Keri, and their daughter Alyssa, who played basketball at the same club as Gianna.
Christina Mauser, an assistant coach of the Mamba girls' basketball team, was also killed along with Payton Chester, Sarah's daughter.
Mourning fans placed bouquets of flowers at a makeshift memorial outside the gated community in Newport Beach, south of Los Angeles, where the late NBA great lived.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said a tribute to Bryant would be included in next month's Oscars ceremony.
The star, who won an Academy Award in 2018 for animated short film "Dear Basketball," had been honoured with a moment's silence at the Oscars nominees' luncheon on Monday.