CALABASAS (CNS) - The Federal Aviation Administration had yet to respond this morning to criticism leveled against it by the National Transportation Safety Board for failing to implement a pair of recommendations it made in response to helicopter crashes that occurred before the crash that claimed the life of Los Angeles Lakers' legend Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter and seven others.
During a Tuesday afternoon briefing, the NTSB's Jennifer Homendy said one of the recommendations would have required a terrain awareness and warning system, or TAWS, to be installed on such helicopters. The other would have required that helicopters include cockpit voice recorders and flight data recorders.
The Sikorsky S-76B that crashed Sunday had none of that equipment, she said. She noted, however, it was unclear if the TAWS system would have prevented the crash, saying only it “could have helped to provide information to the pilot on what terrain the pilot was flying in.”
She said earlier that the pilot, trying to climb over some clouds, ascended to about 2,300 feet but then went into a sharp descent. The helicopter crashed into a hillside about 1,085 feet above sea level, she said.
NTSB officials said the helicopter missed clearing the hillside by about 20 or 30 feet, but there are multiple rises in the area, so there's no guarantee the aircraft wouldn't have crashed in a different area if it had managed to avoid the hill it struck.
Homendy said the federal on-site investigation has concluded, although it could be 12 to 18 months before a final report is issued and a determination of the cause of the crash is made.
The helicopter crashed about 9:45 a.m. Sunday in the area of Las Virgenes Road and Willow Glen Street. The helicopter, which departed from John Wayne Airport in Orange County, was bound for Camarillo, with the passengers on board heading to the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, where Bryant was set to coach his daughter's team in a tournament game.
Former Lakers teammates and current and former NBA players gave emotional tributes to Bryant.
Shaquille O'Neal shed tears as he remembered his teammate, whom he often referred to as his “little brother.”
“It hit all of us out of nowhere,” O'Neal said as he sat in a chair at center court inside Staples Center on TNT Tuesday night.” I didn't want to believe it. I said to myself, 'I hope some butt-face made this up and it's not true.' I didn't want to believe. Then you get the calls, and then you finally see it's confirmed. My spirit just left my body.”
O'Neal said he has struggled to deal with Sunday's death of Bryant and his daughter, Gianna.
“Listen, people are going to say take your time and get better, but this is going to be hard for me,” O'Neal said. “I already don't sleep anyway. But I'll figure it out.”
He offered his condolences to Bryant's wife, children, parents and siblings and called his former teammate “probably the world's greatest Laker, the world's greatest basketball player.”
The two were teammates for eight season before O'Neal was traded to the Miami Heat before the 2004-2005 season. Their relationship was often portrayed as characterized as bickering, but the two had made up in recent years and shared admiration for each other. O'Neal said that was going to be one of the toughest things to deal with.
“The fact that we're not going to be able to joke at his Hall of Fame ceremony,” O'Neal said. “We're not going to be able to say, 'Ha, I got five [championships], you got four.' The fact that we're not going to be able to say, 'If we would have stayed together, we would have got 10.'
He also said their relationship was never as strained as the media made it out to be.
“I don't want to hear about the beef that y'all thought we had,” O'Neal said. “We practiced, we played together. When we stepped inside the lines, we wanted to win. We both wanted to win.”
Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant said every player had a personal relationship with Bryant.
“As a kid growing up in Maryland and watching the Lakers so much I felt like I knew him close my whole life,” Durant said. “We've seen him grow up. We've seen him retire and go into the second phase of life. It hurts to even just think about it."
Durant said the biggest lesson he learned from Bryant was to work hard and focus heavily on whatever your goals are.
In Italy, where Bryant grew up, his favorite soccer team AC Milan and its fans honored Kobe Bryant during the Italian Cup game against Torino in the San Siro stadium in Milan last night. Fans stood up during the 24th minute of the game, in reference to Bryant's number with the Lakers.
Los Angeles City and County officials also paid tribute to Bryant and the victims Tuesday. Council President Pro Tem Joe Buscaino and Councilman John Lee wore Kobe Bryant jerseys during the meeting. Councilman Curren Price wore a Lakers hat, and Councilman Paul Koretz wore a Lakers tie. Almost all of the council members wore either purple or gold.
The city's Board of Water and Power Commissioners held a moment of silence at the beginning of its meeting in memory of Bryant and the other crash victims.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors also adjourned in honor of Bryant, his daughter, Gianna, and the other crash victims.
City Hall and the Los Angeles International Airport gateway pylons have been illuminated in purple and gold at night and will continue to sport the Lakers' colors through the rest of the week, Mayor Eric Garcetti said.
Council members said they eventually intend to plan a larger tribute celebration of Bryant's life and legacy.
The Los Angeles County coroner's office officially identified four of the victims on Tuesday, including the 41-year-old Bryant. The coroner also formally identified John Altobelli, 56; Sarah Chester, 45; and the helicopter pilot, Ara Zobayan, 50.
The coroner's office was still working to formally identify the remaining passengers:
-- Bryant's 13-year-old daughter, Gianna;
-- Altobelli's wife, Keri, 46, and their 13-year-old daughter Alyssa, who was a teammate of Gianna on Bryant's Mamba Sports Academy basketball team;
-- Chester's 13-year-old daughter Payton, who also played with Gianna and Alyssa; and
-- Christina Mauser, 38, one of Bryant's assistant coaches on the Mamba Academy team.
John Altobelli was scheduled on Tuesday to begin his 28th year coaching the Orange Coast College baseball team. The team went forward with its season-opening game. Players practiced Monday, and installed a banner in honor of Altobelli on the left-field wall of the college stadium.
Mauser was a mother of three children, aged 11, 9 and 3. She and her husband previously coached the girls' basketball team at Harbor Day School in Corona del Mar, where Gianna was one of their players.
Payton Chester also played on Bryant's Mamba Academy team, and was being accompanied to the game by her mother, Sarah. Todd Schmidt, the former principal of Harbor View Elementary School in Corona del Mar, which Payton attended through fifth grade, paid tribute to the girl and her mother on Facebook.
“While the world mourns the loss of a dynamic athlete and humanitarian, I mourn the loss of two people just as important,” Schmidt said. “Their impact was just as meaningful, their loss will be just as keenly felt, and our hearts are just as broken.”
A family friend said Payton was attending St. Margaret's Episcopal School in San Juan Capistrano.
Funeral arrangement were pending for each of the victims.
Photos: Getty Images