Today, February 9th, the NTSB released the initial report of the crash of a Sikorsky S-76B Helicopter (N72EX) in Calabasas, California on January 26th, 2020 that killed Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and all 7 others on board.
The helicopter departed from Santa Ana, CA’s John Wayne Airport (SNA) bound for Camarillo, CA (CMA). It was a VFR flight being conducted between 400 and 600 feet above ground level, under clouds leveled at 1100 feet with 2-3 miles visibility. The helicopter was flying along a highway US 101.
9:44:34 am local time: The pilot of the westbound aircraft told ATC that they were going to climb above the clouds which peaked at 2400 feet, and the Sikorsky climbed at approximately 1500 fpm (feet per minute).
9:45:10 am local time: The helicopter reached almost 2400 feet and began banking to the left
9:45:15 am local time: The left bank was so great, the aircraft started descending
9:45:17 am local time: ATC asked for the pilot’s intentions, to which the pilot retorted a climb to 4000. The helicopter continued rapidly descending, went through the cloud layer, and crashed 1-2 seconds later on the side of a hill.
The investigation focused on a few causes for the crash:
- Preflight & Flight Risk
The preflight was 2 hours before departure time when weather was good for flying, and the weather had changed to what would be considered ‘low-risk’ conditions by the airline. The pilot did not resubmit a weather risk form, which would have cause for a new flight plan from a supervisor at the airline had he resubmitted one.
- Flying into IMC (Instrument Meteorological Conditions) and Poor Weather Avoidance Training
The pilot’s decision to fly into the clouds to rise above them happened after he had started flying into the IMC conditions. The pilot’s training to avoid IMC conditions said to maneuver slowly or land were apparently disregarded.
- Spatial Disorientation
Flying into the clouds left the pilot without a true human reference to the horizon or ground, which in turn caused vertigo or spatial disorientation, which then lead to losing control of the helicopter.
- Continued IMC Flying
The pilot did not choose to leave the clouds due to “self induced pressure”, no alternative flight plan or landing spot (heliport/airport), and wanting to continue the flight.
- Incomplete Safety Management System
Island Express, the charter airline operating the helicopter, had chosen not to implement a full SMS which lead to the inability to thoroughly complete the flight risk analysis form completed by the pilot.
- No Crash-Resistant Flight Recorder
The flight recorder on board had not survived the crash which made observing the controls of the helicopter prior to the crash impossible or very difficult. Had there been one, the investigation would most likely have been less difficult and timely.
“The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this
accident was the pilot’s decision to continue flight under visual flight rules into instrument
meteorological conditions, which resulted in the pilot’s spatial disorientation and loss of control.
Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s likely self-induced pressure and the pilot’s plan
continuation bias, which adversely affected his decision-making, and Island Express Helicopters
Inc.’s inadequate review and oversight of its safety management processes.”
Direct quote from the NTSB report on the crash. Here is the crash report for the N72EX Sikorsky S-76B helicopter crash, where further causes and recommendations to Island Express, the FAA, and various helicopter companies are listed.
This topic is allowed as per the second part of the third rule of the #real-world-aviation category.