As millions of fans mourn the death of Kobe Bryant and eight other people killed in a helicopter crash Sunday and investigators look into the tragedy, people close to the NBA legend tried Wednesday to go on with their lives while honoring his memory.
The Los Angeles Lakers met at their practice facility for the first time since the crash.
While Bryant has been retired from professional basketball for four years, Lakers players still idolize the five-time NBA champion and his legacy permeates their home arena.
The Lakers were on a plane back from Philadelphia when the news of Bryant’s death got out.
Lakers Coach Frank Vogel said he informed his players of Bryant’s death – some had heard, some had not – then went home and hugged his family.
Wednesday they gathered again as a team.
“We did some things that we thought would be therapeutically beneficial,” Vogel said. He said the team did some shooting drills but it wasn’t a “real practice.” He said he wanted his guys to break a sweat and to be around each other.
He said they all spent time together at a team lunch.
“And (we) grieved together,” he added.
He said the Lakers have always wanted to make Bryant proud.
“We want to represent what he stood for,” he said.
Also Wednesday, Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, sent a message to Kobe’s fans and changed her Instagram profile photo to one of Kobe and his 13-year-old daughter, who also died in the crash.
It was her first public statement on the deaths of Gianna and her father. She wrote that she and her three other daughters are “completely devastated.”
“My girls and I want to thank the millions of people who’ve shown support and love during this horrific time. Thank you for all the prayers. We definitely need them,” she wrote.
Feds investigate cause of crash
The aircraft carrying the nine victims crashed into a hillside and missed the top of the hill by 20 to 30 feet, the National Transportation Safety Board said.
Preliminary information suggests the helicopter descended rapidly before it crashed in Calabasas, California, NTSB member Jennifer Homendy said.
“The descent rate for the helicopter was over 2,000 feet a minute,” Homendy said. “This is a pretty steep descent at high speed.”
Investigators are trying to determine what caused the crash and whether the pilot should have been granted special permission to fly in the foggy conditions Sunday morning.
FAA records reviewed by CNN reveal Island Express Holding Corp., the company operating the helicopter, was certified only for visual flight rules flights.
Visual flight rules require pilots to stay clear of clouds and in good visibility while using both visual and instrument navigation.
Investigators are also looking into whether a safety system – recommended by federal authorities years ago – could have prevented the tragedy.
The helicopter lacked a recommended safety feature
The Sikorsky S-76B helicopter, built in 1991, did not have a terrain awareness and warning system (TAWS), Homendy said.
TAWS is a safety feature that alerts pilots when they might hit terrain.
After a 2004 helicopter crash in Texas that killed 10 people, the NTSB recommended all new and existing helicopters with six or more passenger seats be equipped with TAWS, Homendy said.
But the NTSB doesn’t have the authority to set new rules based on recommendations. That’s up to the Federal Aviation Administration, which didn’t implement the recommendation, Homendy said.
An FAA spokesman did not provide a direct response Wednesday to CNN’s request for explanation on why the agency did not make TAWS mandatory for all helicopters.
The FAA has estimated that TAWS would cost “$35,000 per helicopter for equipment and installation, plus $7,000 for revenue loss for equipment downtime,” according to a government document from 2014.
The FAA must consider cost-benefit analyses before making new rules, said Peter Goelz, a former managing director of the NTSB.
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But Goelz said he and other aviation experts believe “when it comes to safety, the cost-benefit analysis should never be the final call.”
He said some helicopter pilots may consider TAWS to be a nuisance, especially in good conditions when the terrain is visible but the alerts keep going off.
“If you have a device in a helicopter, which is often flying at low altitudes, often (TAWS) will go off and you will get alerts and that will cause the pilot to ignore it,” Goelz said.
But he said that concern is “overstated.”
“You can calibrate these things very carefully,” he said. “The workload argument doesn’t hold up when you weigh it against the safety benefits.”
Island Express declined to comment on why the aircraft did not have TAWS.
“Because this is an ongoing investigation, Island Express defers comment on this matter to the NTSB,” according to a company statement.
The helicopter also lacked a flight data recorder
TAWS isn’t the only recommended feature that wasn’t on the helicopter. The aircraft also lacked a cockpit voice recorder and a flight data recorder, Homendy said.
“Having a CVR and an FDR would have helped us significantly in this investigation,” the NTSB member said.
When contacted by CNN, Island Express declined to say why the helicopter didn’t have the recorders, citing the ongoing investigation.
Goelz said one reason used in the past for why some helicopters lack flight data recorders was that the devices were “too big and too heavy.”
But “they have now miniaturized them – they are 5 pounds at the most,” Goelz said.
“The idea that these kinds of devices aren’t mandatory is really unacceptable.”
What was found at the scene
While investigators won’t find a cockpit voice recorder or flight data recorder, they did find debris stretching over 500 feet, the NTSB said.
The agency recovered an iPad, a cell phone and documents such as the helicopter’s maintenance records, registration and airworthiness certificate.
Homendy said the NTSB will release its preliminary report on the crash in about 10 days – but it won’t answer everyone’s questions.
“It’s not going to contain our findings, our analysis,” she said. “It’s not going to contain any safety recommendations or probable cause. But it’s going to provide some factual information – more than we have now.”
She said a final report will be out in about 12 to 18 months.
CNN’s Homero De la Fuente, Christina Maxouris, Darran Simon, Nick Watt, Greg Wallace and Sara Loaiza contributed to this report.