LOS ANGELES -- A light fog had settled on the runway of John Wayne Airport Sunday morning when Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and six other passengers boarded a chartered helicopter to fly to a basketball tournament in Thousand Oaks.
A half-hour later, they were flying over thickening clouds in the San Fernando Valley. The pilot was worried enough to ask flight controllers to keep track of them. As he approached the hills of Calabasas at 150 miles per hour, they radioed him, telling him he was too low for them to see on radar.
The pilot commenced a climb, rising 765 feet in 36 seconds, enough to clear adjacent hills.
What happened next is a mystery: the Sikorsky S-76B suddenly veered off course and descended rapidly. The twin-engine aircraft dropped 325 feet in 14 seconds, reaching 176 miles per hour before losing contact and hitting the hillside above Las Virgenes Road, killing all nine people on board.
Federal investigators on Monday began a wide-ranging investigation into the crash heard around the world. They plan to look at the histories of the pilot, helicopter maintenance records and the foggy conditions that can quickly disorient pilots.
The helicopter was not carrying a black box, cockpit voice recorder or flight data recorder, officials said, although investigators did recover an iPad with ForeFlight, an app pilots use to log flight plans and weather briefings.
Bryant, 41, who lived in Newport Beach, had made the flight to the Camarillo Airport many times.
On Sunday he was scheduled to coach his 13-year-old daughter's team game against the Fresno Lady Heat at his Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks The tournament, called the Mamba Cup, featured boys' and girls' travel teams from fourth through eighth grades.
Accompanying the Bryants: John Altobelli, 56, the longest-tenured baseball coach in Orange Coast College history, his wife, Keri, 46, and daughter, Alyssa, 13; Christina Mauser, 38, an assistant basketball coach at the Mamba Academy; and Sarah Chester, 45, and her daughter, Payton, 13.
The flight took off at John Wayne Airport in Orange County at 9:06 a.m.