CLEVELAND - As investigators work to determine what caused the helicopter crash that killed nine people including Kobe Bryant and his daughter, dense fog and low visibility at the time are expected to be a key part of the investigation.
The helicopter plunged into a hillside in Calabasas, California Sunday, killing everyone on board.
The weather at the time was so dangerous for helicopters that area police departments had grounded their choppers.
SkyFox pilot Dan Cukryznski said he has met the pilot of the helicopter that crashed.
“You can easily get disoriented when you're flying in weather conditions where you have no visibility,” Cukryznski said.
Cukryznski said pilots decide if it's safe to fly.
“Most operations in a helicopter require you have good visibility,” he said. “You're always looking for traffic, you're looking for power lines. We fly low level, lower than airplanes do, so you have to really be aware of your surroundings.”
Bryant was in a Sikorsky S-76 twin-engine helicopter with his daughter, who was participating in a basketball tournament at Bryant’s youth sports academy, which the helicopter was heading toward. Two of her teammates, their parents and a coach were also on board.
The helicopter was flying under Special Visual Flight Rules (SVFR) clearance, which allows pilots to fly in weather conditions worse than those under standard Visual Flight Rules (VFR).
Cukryznski said pilots must rely on instruments when flying without visual cues.
He said he considered Monday's weather in Cleveland, with clouds hovering amid downtown skyscrapers, too dangerous for SkyFox purposes.
“We fly in VFR conditions, so we make sure we're staying away from clouds, we're staying away from the fog,” he said.
In California, investigators combed through debris as they worked to determine what caused the deadly crash.
Federal investigators will likely also look at the pilot's history and the chopper's maintenance record.
“As a pilot, my heart goes out to the pilot and his family,” Cukryznski said. “I want to kind of find out what happened. I don't want to make those same mistakes.