TUESDAY JANUARY, 28
An air traffic controller told the pilot of the helicopter carrying US basketball star Kobe Bryant he was flying “too low” to be picked up by radar before the chopper crashed, killing everyone on board.
A 40-second audio clip of the communication between the helicopter and air traffic control was released publicly as 20 investigators worked on the hillside in Los Angeles where the helicopter crashed. The debris left from the crash scattered over an area the size of a football field.
The pilot spoke with control towers at Burbank and Van Nuys for a short time before changing over to the Socal Approach network.
Socal Approach advised the helicopter pilot that he did not have enough altitude to be picked up by the Flight Following system, but he did not respond and the radar contact was lost.
“Helicopter 72EX, you’re still too low for Flight Following at this time,” the air traffic controller said.
The Flight Following system allows pilots to inform air traffic controllers of their location and intentions so their aircraft can be monitored on the radar and steered away from other aircraft.
Aviation lawyer Garry Robb said that the audio indicated that the pilot tried to remain below clouds in order to remain in visual contact with the ground and avoid flying on instruments.
Mr Robb said it was “certainly possible” that the pilot was “flying so low to get under the cloud cover that he clipped the top of that mountain that extended into the clouds.”
“The dialogue between the pilot and air traffic control leads me to believe… he kept wanting to go lower and lower, beneath the fog and ceiling, as we call it, and that could have led him to fly so low that he flew into the mountain,” he said.
In the transmissions, the pilot “was calm and controlled the whole time,” Mr Robb added, calling the communications “extremely normal and routine.”
The Sikorsky S-76 went down in Calabasas, about 48 kilometres north-west of downtown Los Angeles on Sunday morning.
The National Transportation Safety Board sent a “go team” to the site, which spokesman Keith Holloway said priorities were collecting “as much perishable evidence as possible”.
The investigation would consider weather data, radar information, air traffic control communications, maintenance logs along with the pilot’s record, Mr Holloway said.
Jonathan Lucas, Los Angeles County medical examiner, said the rugged terrain complicated efforts to recover the remains. He estimated it would take at least a couple of days to complete the task.
Data from Flightradar24 shown the aircraft crashed into the hillside at about 9:45am at 1,400 feet.
When it struck the ground, the helicopter was flying at 160 knots with a descending rate of more than 4000 feet per minute.
The helicopter received approval to fly even though weather conditions were worse than usual standards for flying.
Los Angeles Police Department spokesman Josh Rubenstein told the Los Angeles Times that the weather “did not meet our minimum standards for flying” and that all police helicopters were grounded.
A pilot who used to fly Bryant in the chopper, Kurt Deetz, said the crash was more likely caused by bad weather than by engine or other mechanical problems.
“The likelihood of a catastrophic twin engine failure on that aircraft – it just doesn’t happen,” he told the Los Angeles times.
Calabasas residents described the foggy conditions in the area where the crash happened.
Colin Storm described what sounded to him like a low-flying plane or helicopter.
“It was very foggy so we couldn’t see anything,” he said.
“But then we heard some sputtering and then a boom.”
Witness Jerry Kocharian told the Los Angeles Times the helicopter “didn’t sound right” and was flying very low.
“I saw it falling and spluttering. But it was hard to make out as it was so foggy,” he said.
“The helicopter vanished into a cloud of fog and then there was a boom. There was a big fireball. No-one could survive that.”
Among those killed in the crash includes John Altobelli, 56, head coach of Southern California’s Orange Coast College baseball team, his wife Keri and daughter Alyssa, who played on the same basketball team as Bryant’s daughter. Christina Mauser was also killed in the crash, who was a girls basketball coach at a nearby primary school.
An 11-year old boy and his father are dead and a woman is in a serious condition following a suspected fault with a fridge inside their tent on a West Australian beach.
Police arrived on a beach about eight kilometres south of the Wedge Island access road, after receiving a report that a child was not breathing.
A rescue helicopter was dispatched from Perth.
Emergency services personnel found the man and child dead at the scene and a woman “in need of urgent medical assistance”.
It is believed the family’s dog also died.
WA Police said in a statement that the deaths were not being treated as suspicious and initial investigations suggested that there was a fault with an item of camping equipment inside the family’s tent.
The ABC understands it was a fridge leaking gas.
“The aspect of the investigation is ongoing,” WA Police said.
“The Department of Fire and Emergency Services attended to assist with the safe removal of the camping equipment.
“Police would like to speak to anyone who was camping in the area at the time, and who have not already spoken to police.”
The Federal Government has told doctors and GP surgery staff to wear face masks when seeing potential coronavirus cases and will dip into the national mask stockpile to ensure that are enough to go around.
Chief medical officer Brendan Murphy said he had spoken to the president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners on Tuesday morning and advised that the masks be used for consultations.
“We want Gps to put a mask on the patient and the staff and the doctor when they are assessing the patient. That’s important advice,” Professor Murphy said.
“We are investigating the supply issue. If it is difficult and impossible for some of them to get them, we will make sure they will get them.”
Health Minister Greg Hunt said there was a national medical stockpile of 12 million masks which would be sent where needed.
“We will work to make sure that everybody who needs them has them,” he said.
However Professor Murphy said there was no need for widespread quarantining and called for people who had recently returned from China to “be treated like any normal member of the community unless they develop symptoms” of the virus.
“The main message that we’re trying to give still to the Australian public is that there is no cause for concern,” he said.
“There is no human-to-human transmission of this virus [in Australia] and it is important to know because we had media ask about masks today.
“There is no need for the Australian public to wear masks.
“The only people who should wear masks in relation to this… virus are those who are unwell.”
The Government’s Smart Traveller website has updated its travel advice for China, telling Australians not to travel to and from Hubei province, where the virus originated.
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