Kobe Bryant Helicopter Would Have Cleared Hill If 20-30 Ft. Higher, NTSB Says

However, there were still surrounding hills that would have required an even higher altitude for clearance

The helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others could have potentially avoided the hill that led to their tragic death had it been flying 20 to 30 feet higher, the National Transportation Safety Board said on Tuesday.

However, NTSB investigator Bill English also noted that there were still surrounding hills that would have required an even higher altitude for clearance.

“It’s important to realize that there’s not one hill,” English said during their Tuesday press conference. “It’s a ravine with undulating terrain, so the small outcropping that had the main impact in it, the main impact was about 20 to 30 feet from the top of that small hill. But there are actually other higher hills surrounding it.”

According to the federal agency, the aircraft — which had been flying in extremely foggy conditions —plunged over “2,000 feet per minute” before crashing into a California mountain, in what the NTSB described as a “high-energy impact crash.”

Kobe Bryant helicopter crash
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Investigators say that the helicopter was not equipped with a terrain awareness and warning system (TAWS) — something they believe could have helped pilot Ara Zobayan.

TAWS is an on-board system aimed at preventing unintentional impacts with the ground. The system, which provides terrain information, could have alerted Zobayan that he was close to the hillside.

The system was introduced by NTSB years ago following a 2004 helicopter crash in Galveston, Texas that killed 10 people. The agency asked that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) require all U.S. registered helicopters that seated 6 or more passengers be equipped with TAWS, however, the FAA did not implement the recommendation and the proposal was closed.

The FAA did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.

Also absent in the aircraft were black boxes, a cockpit voice recorder (CVR) and flight data recorders (FDR) — additional tools that could have supported Zobayan during the flight, according to NTSB.

Kobe Bryant helicopter crash
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It is still unclear whether the pilot had become disoriented during the flight or if there was a mechanical problem with the helicopter. One of Zobayan’s former students described the pilot as one of the best.

“He was as skilled and as talented as a pilot as you could get. With him, it was always safety first and above and beyond that, he was doing what he loved,” Adam Alexander told PEOPLE.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner announced that the bodies of the nine victims had been recovered.

Since the announcement, the Coroner’s Office has identified Bryant, 41, John Altobelli, 56, Sarah Chester, 46, and the pilot Ara Zobayan, 50 through “the use of fingerprints.”

At this time, the Coroner’s Office is working to identify the bodies of the remaining 5 victims: Gianna, Payton Chester, Christina Mauser, Keri Altobelli and Alyssa Altobelli.

Kobe Bryant
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The group had been on their way to a youth basketball game for Gianna, Payton, Alyssa and their teammates.

Bryant — who is survived by wife Vanessa, 37, and their daughters Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and Capri, 7 months — previously shared that he began using helicopters while he still played for the Los Angeles Lakers as a way to spend more time with his family.

“I was sitting in traffic and I wound up missing like a school play,” he told Alex Rodriguez in a 2018 interview. “I had to figure out a way where I could still train and focus on the craft but still not compromise family time.”

“So that’s when I looked into helicopters, to be able to get down and back in 15 minutes and that’s when it started,” he added at the time.

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