Kobe Bryant chopper dropped more than 2,000 feet a minute

The helicopter that crashed over the weekend in California killing nine people, including NBA legend Kobe Bryant, dropped more than 2,000 feet a minute and was in one piece until impact into a hillside, a National Transportation Safety Board member said Tuesday.

The helicopter was at 2,300 feet in the air when it lost communication Sunday morning with air traffic control, the NTSB said. The pilot said he was climbing to a higher altitude to avoid a cloud layer. That last contact was around 9:45 a.m. Sunday. The first 911 call came in two minutes later, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said.

Parts of the helicopter were found scattered at the crash site, which stretched 500 to 600 feet, the NTSB said.

As the NTSB wrapped up their recovery operations Tuesday at the crash site, investigators are working to determine the cause of the crash. NTSB board member Jennifer Homendy said the helicopter did not have a terrain awareness and warning system, which provides the pilot with information about the terrain.

She said the NTSB has recommended that similar helicopters be equipped with the safety feature following a fatal crash in Galveston, Texas that killed 10 people in 2004. The Federal Aviation Administration failed to implement the recommendation, Homendy said.

She said the helicopter missed clearing a mountain by 20 to 30 feet.

“The descent rate for the helicopter was over 2,000 feet a minute, so we know that this was a high energy impact crash,” Homendy said.

She added: “This is a pretty steep descent at high speed. So it wouldn’t be a normal landing speed.”

According to Homendy, “preliminary information is that the helicopter was in one piece when it impacted the terrain.”

As investigators scour for clues, the pilot’s last words with air traffic control illustrate a foggy scene in the sky.

Pilot Ara Zobayan said he was climbing to avoid a cloud layer, Homendy said Monday. But when air traffic control asked him what he planned to do, there was no response.

Visibility was so low Sunday morning that the Los Angeles Police Department had decided to ground its helicopters that morning.

But it’s still not certain what caused the helicopter to crash, killing parents, children, and one of the greatest athletes of all time.

Bryant, 41, and his daughter Gianna, 13, were heading to a basketball game in Thousand Oaks, where he was expected to coach and she was expected to play.

The other six passengers included two of Gianna’s teammates with their parents and an assistant girls basketball coach. The pilot, Zobayan, was also killed.

The LA County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner announced Tuesday that four of the nine bodies recovered, including Kobe Bryant, were officially identified through the use of fingerprints. Investigators are still working on identifying the five remaining bodies.