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Old February 3rd 20, 07:48 PM posted to rec.aviation.piloting
Larry Dighera
external usenet poster
Posts: 3,908

If Kobe's helo pilot, ARA GEORGE ZOBAYAN, suddenly descended at a rate
of 2000 feet per minute into terrain, loss of spatial awareness sure
seems plausible to me, despite his being an instrument flight and
ground instructor.

One of the most difficult things for a pilot in command to learn is
how to find the courage to tell his passengers that it is not safe to
complete the flight. He faces confession that the situation exceeds
abilities, probable ridicule from disappointed passengers who likely
face financial repercussions of his decision, and possible unfavorable
review by his employer if it is a commercial; revenue producing
flight. He needs to emphasize his prudence and professional concern
for the SAFETY of the flight, and expect those inconvenienced
passengers to praise his decision. It takes time to develop this


January 27, 2020
By Jim Moore

Editor's note: This story was updated on January 30 and 31 to include
new information.

Investigators probing the January 26 helicopter crash that killed
basketball legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others
said there is no evidence that terrain awareness technology was
available to the pilot as he attempted to negotiate rising terrain in
poor visibility.

The NTSB dispatched a team to Los Angeles and the FAA established a
temporary flight restriction over the scene within hours of the fatal
accident that triggered mourning far beyond the world of professional
basketball players and fans. Images of the burning wreckage of the
Sikorsky S–76B operated under Part 135 by Island Express Holding and
scattered on a hillside were broadcast live on cable news outlets that
devoted days of programming to the loss of one of the National
Basketball Association’s greatest players of all time. Bryant retired
four years ago as one of the league’s top scorers, and was expected to
be inducted into the Hall of Fame this year, his first year of
eligibility. He was traveling with his 13-year-old daughter and others
from John Wayne Airport in Orange County to Bryant’s basketball
academy in Thousand Oaks, California, according to multiple media

Jennifer Homendy, a member of the NTSB who participated in the
on-scene investigation and briefed the media in a series of press
conferences culminating with a final briefing on January 28, said the
helicopter descended rapidly into terrain and struck the side of a
hill 1,085 feet above sea level.

Visibility was limited by clouds and fog at the time of the ill-fated
flight, and the pilot may have lost sight of the highways and other
visual references he was attempting to follow to his destination.

“We know that the helicopter was at 2,300 feet when it lost
communications with air traffic control,” Homendy said. “The descent
rate for the helicopter was over 2,000 feet a minute, so we know that
this was a high-energy impact crash, and the helicopter was in a
descending left bank.”

Investigators used a drone to document the crash scene, and fly the
final path of the accident flight documented by ADS-B data. NTSB photo
via YouTube.

Homendy said investigators had concluded the recovery of the wreckage
having found all critical parts of the helicopter in the impact area,
so they believe the helicopter was intact when it hit the ground.
Investigators confirmed the helicopter was not equipped with terrain
awareness and warning system capability. Homendy noted that the board
had recommended mandating such equipment for commercial helicopters
following previous accidents, but the FAA had not implemented that
recommendation. The absence of a cockpit voice recorder and flight
data recorder, also recommended by the NTSB following previous
accidents, was also noted.

Aviation International News analyzed publicly available radar data and
recorded air traffic control audio to develop a detailed chronology of
the ill-fated flight
.. Low ceilings and fog prevailed at the time of the accident, 9:47
a.m. Pacific Standard Time. The flight appeared to have wound its way
through rising terrain in limited visibility. The final moments of
recorded radar and ADS-B data indicate rapid changes in speed and
altitude before the helicopter impacted terrain. There was no distress

Chuck Street, executive director of the Los Angeles Area Helicopter
Operators Association (of which Island Express is a member) praised
the company’s overall commitment to safety, as well as pilot Ara
Zobayan, who was among the nine people killed in the accident, in an
interview with the Los Angeles Times.

“He took what he did seriously,” Street said. “The words that come up
in my mind when I think of him: professional and cheerful.”

Various media outlets
noted that poor visibility conditions were widespread at the time of
the accident, grounding police helicopter operations in Los Angeles
County and elsewhere, including Fresno County. The New York Times
chartered a helicopter to retrace the path of the ill-fated flight and
glean additional insight on the pilot's struggle with deteriorating

The helicopter impacted terrain about 1,000 feet above sea level. The
decent rate was more than 2,000 feet per minute. NTSB photo via

Homendy said Zobayan had logged 8,200 hours by the time he applied for
his most recent second class medical certificate in July 2019, and
that included 1,250 hours in the S–76. While Zobayan was known to have
owned an iPad with ForeFlight, investigators were still unsure whether
the device found in the wreckage was his.

AOPA Air Safety Institute Executive Director Richard McSpadden fielded
several calls from reporters following the crash, and took pains to
point out that helicopters log about 3 million flight hours a year in
the United States, and that tragedies like the loss of Bryant, his
pilot, and fellow passengers can create a false perception about the
risks involved in aviation. The Los Angeles Times, after its own
analysis of safety data, noted that the Sikorsky S–76 has an enviable
safety record overall, with just 0.2 fatal crashes per 100,000 flight
hours from 2006 to 2016.

McSpadden said that it is always premature to draw conclusions about
any accident, particularly including the safety implications, until
the details of the investigation are known. “I’ve been reinforcing
that message on several interviews this morning,” McSpadden said.

Likewise, the Helicopter Association International and Sikorsky, a
Lockheed Martin company, expressed similar sentiments in the immediate

Investigators had concluded their work at the crash site by January
28, turning the scene over to local authorities. NTSB photo via

“Helicopter Association International expresses our deepest sympathies
to the families, friends, and coworkers of those lost in today’s
crash. HAI’s official policy is to refrain from commenting on any
accident until authorities complete their investigation,” the
association said in a statement.

Sikorsky also issued a statement:

“We extend our sincerest condolences to all those affected by today’s
Sikorsky S–76B accident in Calabasas, California. We have been in
contact with the NTSB and stand ready to provide assistance and
support to the investigative authorities and our customer. Safety is
our top priority; if there are any actionable findings from the
investigation, we will inform our S–76 customers.”

NTSB Member Jennifer Homendy's Final Media Brief on the Calabasas, CA
helicopter crash
Jan 28, 2020

NTSB Member Jennifer Homendy's Second Media Brief on the Calabasas, CA
helicopter crash
Jan 27, 2020


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