Read accident case studies and aviation stories to help you stay sharp.
By Dan Sobczak
Editor's note: This content does not constitute flight instruction. Consult a certified flight instructor in your area for proper flight instruction.
Edit, February 8, 2020:
The NTSB released a preliminary report into the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash.
This report is simply an aircraft accident investigative update, which describes the factual findings that NTSB investigators have found based on their initial two weeks of investigation, and does not conclude the cause of the accident.
Particularly telling from the report are witness photographs and comments that described the conditions around the time of the accident.
"Videos and photos taken by the public in the area of the accident also depict fog and low clouds obscuring the hilltops."
A photo taken by a nearby resident about 5 minutes after the accident from a location about 4,000 feet west of the site at an elevation of 750 feet MSL. Source: NTSB.
An ALERTWildfire camera image taken at 0944 PST looking southeast toward the city of Van Nuys, as publicized on the National Weather Service (NWS) Los Angeles Twitter account, depicted the top of the cloud layer to the east of the accident site. The NWS analyzed the top of the cloud layer to be about 2,400 feet above mean sea level near the terrain in the foreground of the image. Source: NTSB.
Additionally, the NTSB's description of the accident flight helps paint a picture of the conditions during the flight.
"ATC communications and radar data indicate the flight departed KSNA about 0906 PST. N72EX proceeded to the north-northwest at an altitude of about 700 to 800 feet mean sea level (msl) under visual flight rules (VFR). At 0920, as the aircraft neared the Burbank class C airspace, the pilot requested to transition the area along Highway 101. The current Burbank weather observation reported instrument flight rules (IFR) conditions. In response to the pilot’s request, the air traffic controller advised that cloud tops were reported at 2,400 feet msl and queried the pilot’s intentions; the pilot then requested a special VFR clearance (an ATC authorization to proceed in controlled airspace at less than VFR weather minima). The air traffic controller advised that the pilot would need to hold for a short time due to IFR traffic, which the pilot acknowledged. At 0932, ATC cleared the pilot of N72EX to transition the class C surface area following the I-5 freeway, maintaining special VFR conditions at or below 2,500 feet. The pilot acknowledged with a correct readback and climbed to approximately 1,400 feet msl (600 feet agl). In response to query, the pilot replied to the Burbank ATC that he would follow Highway 118 and “loop around VNY [Van Nuys Airport]” to follow Highway 101. ATC acknowledged and coordinated.
At 0939, as N72EX was passing west of Van Nuys at 1,500 feet msl, the VNY controller asked the pilot if he was in VFR conditions. The pilot replied “VFR conditions, one thousand five hundred,” and the VNY controller advised him to contact Southern California Terminal Radar Approach Control (SCT) for radar advisory services. 4 of 11 The pilot reported to SCT that the flight was going to Camarillo at 1,500 feet. The SCT controller advised that he would not be able to maintain radar contact at that altitude and terminated services. The SCT controller was subsequently relieved by a different controller. At 0945, the pilot of N72EX again contacted SCT and advised he was climbing above cloud layers and requested advisory services. The second controller was not aware of the aircraft, as services had previously been terminated, so asked the pilot to identify the flight. The SCT controller then asked the pilot his intentions, to which he replied he was climbing to 4,000 feet. There were no further transmissions.
Radar/ADS-B data indicate the aircraft was climbing along a course aligned with Highway 101 just east of the Las Virgenes exit. Between Las Virgenes and Lost Hills Road, the aircraft reached 2,300 feet msl (approximately 1,500 feet above the highway, which lies below the surrounding terrain) and began a left turn. Eight seconds later, the aircraft began descending and the left turn continued. The descent rate increased to over 4,000 feet per minute (fpm), ground speed reached 160 knots. The last ADS-B target was received at 1,200 feet msl approximately 400 feet southwest of the accident site."
While the NTSB will release its final report at a later date with the official ruling into the cause of this accident -- typically around 12 months after the accident date -- the conditions described seem to hint at an all-too-common cause of similar type of accidents in which situational awareness may have been lost due to deteriorating weather conditions and aeronautical decision making.
Original article below, published January 27, 2020:
It's been a little over 24 hours since the tragic helicopter accident in Los Angeles, California in which nine souls died, including former NBA star Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter.
As the NTSB investigation has just barely begun, and news reports continue to surface, we will not speculate on what chain of events may have transpired leading to this accident.
Often times initial news reports are incomplete and inaccurate.
It will likely take a couple of months before the NTSB releases its preliminary report, which will focus only on the facts as investigators have documented them.
Then it will take a few more months before the NTSB releases its final report with its ruling on the accident's cause(s).
Often in high profile accident cases such as this, it may take up to a year before the NTSB releases its final report.
That being said, our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends who are affected by this accident. Having been there ourselves, we know the challenging time they are experiencing now.
Jason Schappert over at MzeroA.com released a short video expressing the same thoughts that have been going through our minds over the last 24 hours.
We wanted to share that video with you here, as we couldn't have said it better ourselves.
Watch Jason Schappert's thoughts on the the past few days of aviation accidents, which included the Kobe Bryant helicopter accident, and two other accidents involving professional airshow pilots. Source: MzeroA.com.
The Flight Chain App team
Dan Sobczak is the founder of www.FlightChainApp.com, a mobile app that helps pilots learn from accident chains by making NTSB reports more convenient and easier to digest. Dan received his private pilot certificate in 2003.
Flight Chain App and its companion blog www.AheadOfThePowerCurve.com are committed to reducing general aviation accidents, helping improve aviation safety, and growing the pilot population.
The only aviation accident app that helps you see and understand the accident chain from NTSB reports.
Flight Chain App and its blog Ahead of the Power Curve are committed to reducing general aviation accidents, helping improve aviation safety, and growing the pilot population.