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Pilot of Bryant helicopter tried to avoid heavy fog

CALABASAS, Calif. (AP) — A veteran pilot who plunged into a Los Angeles-area hillside, killing 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 began scouring the wreckage for clues to Sunday morning’s crash.

Bryant’s death at age 41 was mourned around the world in an outpouring of shocked grief. And while the official investigation into the cause of the crash was just beginning and crews were still working to recover the bodies, experts and armchair pilots alike already were flooding social media and the airwaves with speculation.

The pilot, Ara Zobayan, was a flight instructor and had more than 8,000 hours of flight time. He had flown Bryant and other celebrities several times before.

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

The aircraft’s speed “means he was completely out of control and in a dive,” Waldman said.

“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.

Some experts raised questions of whether the helicopter should have even been flying.

“He could have turned around and gone back to a safer place with better visibility,” Waldman said. “However, a lot of times somebody who’s doing it for a living is pressured to get their client to where they have to go. They take chances that maybe they shouldn’t take.”

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