4:40 PM PT -- The NTSB revealed the helicopter was not equipped with a black box, nor was it required to be. There was, however, an iPad on board used for flight itinerary, weather conditions and other flight elements that investigators will look at. The NTSB is also asking the public for photos of the weather in the area Sunday morning to determine flying conditions.
3:48 PM PT -- The NTSB is minutes away from a press conference about the crash ... we will have the whole thing live here.
The pilot of the helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant, his daughter and 6 other passengers got in big trouble with fog -- they seemed to abort the trip and tried returning home, barely clearing one mountain range, but never slowed down ... this according to the flight tracker and several experienced helicopter pilots in the L.A. area.
As we reported, the pilot had to circle near the Downtown L.A. area -- near the L.A. Zoo -- for 15 minutes because of bad weather ahead. As we reported ... the LAPD had grounded its helicopter fleet because of fog at around the same time Kobe's helicopter took off.
The pilot was following a visual flight plan and was cleared by the tower to proceed north, toward Thousand Oaks where Kobe was taking his daughter for a basketball game. When he got to the Calabasas area, the fog became blinding.
As we reported, the pilot was way too low -- at 1,250 feet. The pilots we spoke with say it's clear based on the abrupt change on the flight tracker ... the pilot panicked and quickly ascended to 2,000 feet. We're told he cleared a mountain range by 100 feet, and the pilots we spoke with say he was so low he almost certainly saw the tops of the mountain.
The pilots we spoke with -- all of whom have extensive experience -- say based on the flight tracker and the accident scene, they believe the pilot felt he had cleared all of the mountains and was proceeding to head back when he hit another mountain. The pilot clearly did not know there were mountains ahead because he actually descended from 2,000 feet to 1,700 feet ... presumably to go under the fog.
Even more baffling, we've been told the pilot was extremely experienced flying in that area -- and was even a flight instructor. One seasoned helicopter pilot told TMZ, he could not understand why Kobe's pilot would have maintained a speed of 161 knots in such dense fog. One of the benefits of a helicopter is you can go much slower -- even 15 mph -- to gingerly avoid terrain if you're uncertain.
Our sources say the chopper was sophisticated and had an altitude warning signal to pull up, but it was too late. As we said, he was doing 161 knots and didn't slow down. The helicopter hit the mountain at that speed.
Several of the pilots we spoke with say the pilot should have gone up to clear the fog, rather than down. To that end, we're told the pilot could have slowed down to almost a stop as he turned, but didn't.