SHOW MORE 

Kobe helicopter tried to climb to avoid clouds before crash

Full Screen
1 / 15

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Players and fans observe a moment of silence for former NBA player Kobe Bryant before a basketball game between the Phoenix Suns and the Memphis Grizzlies, Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020, in Memphis, Tenn. Bryant died in a California helicopter crash Sunday. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

CALABASAS, Calif. – The pilot of the helicopter that crashed near Los Angeles, killing former NBA superstar Kobe Bryant and eight others, told air traffic controllers in his last radio message that he was climbing to avoid a cloud layer before plunging more than 1,000 feet (305 meters) into a hillside, an accident investigator said.

Radar indicated the helicopter reached a height of 2,300 feet (701 meters) Sunday morning before descending, and the wreckage was found at 1,085 feet (331 meters), Jennifer Homendy of the National Transportation Safety Board said during a news conference Monday afternoon.

NTSB investigators went to the crash site in Calabasas on Monday to collect evidence.

“The debris field is pretty extensive,” Homendy said.

“A piece of the tail is down the hill," she said. “The fuselage is on the other side of that hill. And then the main rotor is about 100 yards (91 meters) beyond that.”

Some experts suggested that the pilot might have gotten disoriented because of fog but Homendy said investigating teams would look at everything from the pilot's history to the engines.

“We look at man, machine and the environment,” she said. “And weather is just a small portion of that.”

The pilot had asked for and received special clearance to fly in heavy fog just minutes before the crash and was flying at 1,400 feet (427 meters) when he went south and then west, Homendy said.