An equipment inventory obtained by NBC 5 indicates that when the state of Illinois sold a helicopter to a California company in 2015, the aircraft was equipped with a cockpit voice recorder, which records all cabin conversations on an endless half-hour loop.
That was the same helicopter that crashed last week in Calabasas, California, killing nine people including basketball star Kobe Bryant and his daughter.
Airworthiness documents also obtained by NBC 5 indicate the new owners, Island Express, removed the device, known as a CVR, in March of 2016, shortly after they took ownership. There is nothing in the documents indicating the recorder was ever replaced, and it isn't clear why it was removed.
Cockpit voice recorders are considered valuable tools, which can shed light on the final moments prior to a crash. They are not required equipment in charter helicopters such as the one in which Bryant died, but the NTSB has repeatedly called for their installation. The recorders are required on all commercial airliners, and NTSB Board Member Jennifer Homendy complained last week that the FAA has not heeded her agency's calls to mandate their use.
“One of those recommendations on the helicopter having a CVR and an FDR, that would have helped us significantly in this investigation,” she said. “And it’s something we’ve recommended several times over a number of years.”
A call to Island Express Helicopters went to voicemail. The Island Express website carries a statement asking that all inquiries be referred to the NTSB.