Video of Bryant’s doomed flight
A video has emerged of what is believed to be Kobe Bryant's helicopter beginning the fateful journey that ended with all nine aboard dying in a fiery crash in California, US.
The basketball legend and eight others - including Bryant's 13-year-old daughter Gianna - were tragically killed on Sunday.
An alleged witness said he filmed the chopper flying over his house in Glendale early Sunday because it was "so loud" and appeared to be "performing a very aggressive circling manoeuvre".
"I try and video / photograph all the weird stuff happening above my house in Glendale, CA," the homeowner wrote on Twitter alongside the clip, which has been viewed more than 25,000 times," Twitter user @theironlydreams wrote online.
"Unfortunately this morning I didn't realise I was filming the helicopter Kobe Bryant, his daughter and others were in 31 minutes before they crashed."
The house has been verified as being under the flight path taken by Sunday's doomed Sikorsky S-76B chopper, according to the US Today show.
Pilot Ara Zobayan is known to have circled the Glendale area near Burbank airport while navigating through poor visibility.
"This pilot was performing a very aggressive circling manoeuvre, that's why I went outside to Film because it was so loud," @theironlydreams wrote.
"I observed 1 or 2 circles before filming & he was even lower & closer to my house, engine maxed.
"Unfortunately this flight was tragic."
Mr Zobayan had been granted special approval to take the flight in bad weather conditions while others - including police helicopters - were grounded.
This meant they could proceed through the foggy airspace in Southern California.
But after circling for around 15 minutes, the helicopter plummeted more than 150 metres in just 15 seconds before smashing into a Los Angeles hillside - killing all nine on board.
Witnesses believe the helicopter dropped out of the sky so quickly that the nine victims likely "didn't suffer" as the chopper was destroyed instantaneously.
"My alarm bells went off because I thought, 'This is awfully low,'" sound engineer, Scott Daehlin told the New York Post, estimating it was "100, 150 feet" above him, yet invisible in the dense fog and low clouds.
The chopper finally flew off - and just "20 seconds later" he "heard the impact," describing it as a sudden "thump" as it crashed into a fog-covered hill.
"It was not very loud. You could hear the crushing, collapsing of fibreglass, Plexiglas," he said, adding the "rotors stopped literally immediately" without an explosion.
THREE BODIES RECOVERED
Three bodies have been recovered from the crash site.
It is unclear at this stage who the bodies belong to, but authorities have described a "nightmare" situation on the ground in California as they try to recover everyone who was on-board.
Sheriff Alex Villlanueva told reporters: "It's a logistical nightmare in a sense, because the crash site itself is not easily accessible.
"They cannot access the crash site, it is a very rough terrain, dangerous even in daylight. We just want people to stay away."
He said the terrain was "rough" and that there was debris for 100 metres in every direction of the crash.
Thick fog filled the air on the Sunday morning when Bryant and eight other people - including his daughter Gianna - set off on the helicopter ride in Orange County, California.
The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has launched a "go team" of up to 18 investigators into the crash that killed Bryant amid questions about why the helicopter was flying low in foggy conditions.
Investigators will focus on bad weather and mechanical problems as a potential cause of the tragic crash that has been mourned by basketball fans around the world. Why the helicopter was flying in conditions so foggy that even LA police had grounded their choppers will also likely be raised.
Detailed analysis of the flight plan of Bryant's Sikorsky S-76B helicopter, built in 1991, showed it took off just after 9am from John Wayne Airport in Orange County and tracked north over Los Angeles before tacking left towards Thousand Oaks where Bryant's Mamba Sports Centre is based.
Not long after they set off on a misty Sunday morning in Southern California, the pilot asked authorities to provide "flight following" aide but was told the craft was "too low", air traffic control audio shows.
About four minutes later, "the pilot advised they were climbing to avoid a cloud layer," according to National Transportation Safety Board spokeswoman Jennifer Homendy.
"When asked what the pilot planned to do, there was no reply," she said.
The flight then disappeared from the radar. It's believed the helicopter ascended to 700m and began a descending turn to the left, according to Ms Homendy.
She said that investigators are looking at weather conditions at the time of the crash, but they are also examining the possibility that other issues played a role in the crash.
"We take a broad look at everything around an investigation, around an accident," she continued. "We look at man, machine and the environment, and weather is just a small portion of that."
What exactly happened in the minutes leading up to the crash is unclear, however flight plan analysis published by New York Magazine shows the pilot was flying above hilly terrain and in thick fog, and using "visual flight rules" - or VFR - which means relying on sight rather than instruments to fly.
The chopper maintained what appears to be a steady pace for the first few minutes, travelling at an altitude of approximately 213m and speed of 241km per hour, a path posted by aircraft tracking website FlightAware.com shows.
But over Burbank, the craft's speed abruptly halved to about 120km per hour, and a reconstruction of the flight path shows the pilot circled several times in an apparent bid to get his bearings, FlightAware shows.
Meanwhile, those who knew Mr Zobayan - described as a meticulous and experienced helicopter pilot who was used to the weather patterns of greater Los Angeles - said they were perplexed by the accident.
One instructor described him as a "super cautious, super smart" pilot.
"I can't see him making this kind of mistake," he told the New York Times.
New York City University aviation professor Paul Cline stressed while he had no direct knowledge of Bryant's incident, fog can quickly turn dangerous when pilots become disorientated.
When you get in the soup, your senses don't work," he said. "For me, I always feel like I'm falling to the right. Other people might feel like they're falling to the left, or climbing."
The helicopter eventually came down on a steep hillside in Calabasas, sparking a small bushfire.
LA TIMES PRODUCES MOVING TRIBUTE
Tributes have been flowing across the world for Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and the seven others who perished in the crash.
While police have not yet officially named the victims, friends and family members have confirmed each of their deaths online.
They include John Altobelli, his wife Keri and youngest daughter Alyssa, who played on the same basketball team as Gianna.
Another member of the team, Payton Chester, and her mother Sarah also died, along with Christina Mauser, who coached girls basketball at a nearby private school.
The helicopter pilot, Ara Zobayan, was the final victim and a much loved member of the aviation community, according to friends.