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Pilot tried to avoid heavy fog

CALABASAS, Calif. (AP) — The veteran pilot whose helicopter plunged into a Los Angeles-area hillside, killing NBA superstar Kobe Bryant and eight others, had tried to avoid fog so heavy that it had grounded police choppers, authorities said.

But even experienced pilots may have only seconds to act when they are blinded by weather, an expert said as investigators examined the wreckage for clues to Sunday morning’s crash.

The Los Angeles County coroner’s office, meanwhile, said Tuesday that all nine bodies have been recovered, and it is working to identify them.

While the investigation into the cause of the wreck was just beginning, experts and armchair pilots alike flooded social media and the airwaves with speculation, some of them suggesting that the pilot had become disoriented in the dense fog that had settled along part of the flight path.

The chartered Sikorsky S-76B was a luxury twin-engine aircraft often used by Bryant in traffic-jumping hops around the notoriously congested LA area. It was heading from John Wayne Airport in Orange County to Camarillo Airport in Ventura County when it crashed in Calabasas.

The 41-year-old former Los Angeles Laker, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and the other passengers were heading to Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy, a youth sports center in Thousand Oaks where Gianna was going to play in a basketball tournament.

Also killed were John Altobelli, 56, longtime head coach of Southern California’s Orange Coast College baseball team; his wife, Keri; and daughter, Alyssa, who played on the same basketball team as Bryant’s daughter; and Christina Mauser, a girls’ basketball coach at a Southern California elementary school.

The Orange Coast baseball team planned a tribute to its coach before its season opener Tuesday afternoon, and the Lakers canceled Tuesday night’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers.

The pilot, Ara Zobayan, was chief pilot for the craft’s owner, Island Express Helicopters. He also was a flight instructor, had more than 8,000 hours of flight time and had flown Bryant and other celebrities several times before, including Kylie Jenner.

Randy Waldman, a helicopter flight instructor who lives in Los Angeles, said the radar tracking data he has seen leads him to believe the pilot got confused in the fog and went into a fatal dive.

“Once you get disoriented your body senses completely tell you the wrong thing. You have no idea which way is up or down,” he said. “If you’re flying visually, if you get caught in a situation where you can’t see out the windshield, the life expectancy of the pilot and the aircraft is maybe 10, 15 seconds.”

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