What caused deadly helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, 8 others? Aviation expert weighs in here

ByLuz Pena KGO logo
Tuesday, January 28, 2020
What caused deadly helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, 8 others? Aviation expert weighs in here
A local aviation expert weighs in on what he believes might have caused the deadly helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his daughter and 7 others.

SAN FRANCISCO -- In an audio of communication between Kobe Bryant's pilot and the Air Traffic Control Tower from LiveATC.net, you can hear Bryant's pilot Ara Zobayan maintaining special VFR or visual flight rules clearance, meaning he could fly in low-visibility situations.

Bryant's helicopter crashed Sunday morning near Calabasas, California killing all 9 onboard including the basketball legend's 13-year-old daughter.

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"When you get into what is considered a special VFR, we would have come home. Why? Well, because that is just below our minimums. Our operation manual doesn't allow for those conditions to exist without us turning around and coming home," said Chris Gularte with Specialized Helicopters.

The Sikorsky S-76B helicopter was flying north from Orange County after takeoff, according to reports.

Audio: "I got a special VFR (visual flight rules) helicopter I need to get to transitioning. He's been holding for about 15 minutes."

In the Air Traffic Control audio, you can hear that it was held up in the air waiting for clearance.

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"You're holding for 15 minutes waiting for the weather to get better. Then the weather is better and let's go and he went. So, at that point, you think well maybe it was mechanical and we are kind of back to square one. We don't know," said Gularte.

Gularte believes weather played a role in the crash.

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Pena: "Based on the weather conditions that day, would you have flown?"

Gularte: "No. We have our company minimums for things that go out and we probably wouldn't have done it."

Gularte also argues that normally the S-76 is equipped for those conditions but pilots decide whether to fly or not.

"We will probably eventually find out that he got into an inverter IMC or Instrument meteorological conditions. So, the weather was really bad. It just got really wonky and he couldn't get the aircraft coupled to autopilot for whatever reason, and tried to hand fly it and got disoriented and crashed," said Gularte.

The mystery remains, what happened?

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In the last moments before the crash, Bryant's pilot went silent.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration records, the pilot was not only certified to fly under instrument conditions but to teach pilots.

Both the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating this crash.