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US News Flying Into Patchy Fog, Kobe Bryant’s Pilot Had a Decision to Make

09:50  28 january  2020
09:50  28 january  2020 Source:   msn.com

Kobe Bryant, 4 others killed in California chopper crash

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Mr. Bryant had made the same flight from near his home on the coast to the Camarillo airport, north of Los Angeles near Mr. Bryant ’ s basketball academy, many times. Visibility was so poor that the Los Angeles Police Department had grounded its fleet of helicopters. The pilot had a decision to make

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a group of people walking down a dirt road: Investigators at the scene of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others in Calabasas, Calif., on Monday. © Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press Investigators at the scene of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others in Calabasas, Calif., on Monday.

CALABASAS, Calif. — The helicopter carrying the basketball legend Kobe Bryant on Sunday morning circled over a golf course in Los Angeles’s Griffith Park, awaiting clearance from air traffic controllers to continue its flight into the hills.

The weather 55 miles south in Orange County, where the helicopter had departed less than an hour earlier, had been fine — four miles visibility. Mr. Bryant had routinely made the same flight from his home on the coast to the Camarillo airport, near his basketball academy north of Los Angeles.

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The pilot , identified as Ara Zobayan, had asked for and received special clearance to fly in heavy fog just minutes before the crash. Bryant was believed to be headed for his youth sports academy in nearby Thousand Oaks, which was holding a basketball tournament Sunday in which Bryant ’ s

Kobe Bryant has died. His daughter was also on board and passed away. Officials worked well into the night on Sunday but had to suspend the search due to darkness and safety concerns. The pilot eventually headed north along the 118 freeway before turning to the west, and started following above

But now, up ahead, a fog so thick that it nearly blinded drivers on the freeway enveloped the hillsides near their destination. Visibility was so poor that the Los Angeles Police Department had grounded its fleet of helicopters. The pilot had a decision to make, one that might have proved fatal.

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Turn around? Begin flying on instruments and head to a safe airport? The pilot, who by all accounts had a sterling safety record and was licensed to fly in inclement weather, kept going.

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More on Kobe Bryant:

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Pilots have access to detailed charts showing the locations of power lines, hilly terrains, and other obstacles, most of which are available on handheld tablets. The Sikorsky S -76B helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant , his 13-year-old daughter, and seven others crashed into a hillside in Calabasas

The helicopter carry Kobe Bryant , his daughter and seven other eople crashed in foggy conditions on Sunday in Calabasas, Calif. CBS2' s Christina Fan has

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Sometime after its last contact with air traffic controllers at 9:45 a.m., the aircraft slammed into a hillside at 1,085 feet.

On Monday, investigators were trying to figure out what went wrong, and they emphasized that no possibility, including a mechanical problem, had been ruled out.

Slideshow by photo services

“We take a broad look at everything around an investigation, around an accident,” Jennifer Homendy, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, said at a news conference on Monday afternoon. “We look at man, machine and the environment, and weather is just a small portion of that.”

The helicopter was not carrying a cockpit voice recorder, and investigators have been searching a debris field of 500 to 600 feet, trying to recover perishable evidence, Ms. Homendy said. Federal officials are not expected to reach a conclusion about the cause of the accident for months.

Asked Monday whether the crash had been survivable, Ms. Homendy replied: “It was a pretty devastating accident scene.”

Like many celebrities and business tycoons, Mr. Bryant had long moved around Southern California by helicopter to avoid the region’s famous traffic. During his career with the Los Angeles Lakers, he would often fly to games downtown.

On the day of the crash he was on his way to a special event, a basketball tournament he was coaching at the training camp he had co-founded in Calabasas. On board with him was his daughter Gianna, 13, a star player who many had predicted had a future in the W.N.B.A.

In addition to Mr. Bryant and his daughter, the crash also killed two of her teammates; an assistant coach; the helicopter’s pilot; and three other adults, one of whom was a college baseball coach.

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Kobe Bryant , his 13-year-old daughter, and seven others set off in the helicopter Sunday morning, flying from Orange County en route to Thousand Oaks Later in the flight, the pilot asked for "flight following," in which controllers would track the flight and be in regular contact. But they were told they

The pilot had asked for and received special clearance to fly in heavy fog just minutes before Sunday' s crash and was flying at 427 metres when he went Bryant had been known since his playing days for taking helicopters instead of braving the notoriously snarled Los Angeles traffic. "I'm not going into LA

The morning flight out of Orange County, close to Mr. Bryant’s home on the coast near Newport Beach, was uneventful at first.

When the helicopter reached Burbank, where the foothills rise above the Los Angeles basin, controllers kept the aircraft circling for 12 minutes, clearing other traffic, according to the N.T.S.B. They then issued a special visual clearance for Mr. Bryant’s flight to pass through their airspace under less-than-optimal visual conditions. The assumption was that the pilot would maintain legal clearance from clouds, or seek clearance to fly on instruments, after that, a Federal Aviation Administration official said.

But there were no further communications until witnesses called 911 at 9:47 a.m. and reported the sound of whirring blades, broken fiberglass and a massive fire on a hillside.

The fog on Sunday morning near the scene of the crash was “as thick as swimming in a pool of milk,” said Scott Daehlin, 61. He was retrieving sound equipment for a Sunday service at his church in Calabasas when the sound of a helicopter coming low and loud through the thick marine layer caused him to look up.

“I couldn’t see anything, not even a silhouette,” he said Monday morning as he looked across the street where the steep mountainside rose. The grassy slope was littered in wreckage. “My first thought was, ‘What in the world is a helicopter doing out here in this fog?’”

For about 20 seconds, he said, he followed the sound of the helicopter as it swept over the church parking lot and south toward the crest of the Santa Monica Mountains. It sounded even and normal, but, he said, “it sounded too low.”

“It sounded almost like the pilot was hovering, trying to find his way,” he said. As the son of a pilot, he added, “I had a sinking feeling in my stomach, and I was saying, ‘Get some altitude.’”

Just then, the helicopter went down. He heard a loud thump and the crack of what sounded like fiberglass, and all sound from the engines stopped.

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The pilot had asked for and received special clearance to fly in heavy fog just minutes before Sunday' s crash and was flying at 1,400 feet (427 metres) when Aviation experts say the accident might have been caused by the pilot becoming disoriented in the fog . How will the world remember Kobe Bryant ?

It turned out that the pilot, Ara Zobayan, who had held a commercial license since 2007, had not obtained a clearance to fly under instrument flight rules, which would have allowed him to navigate with the use of his instruments, officials said.

The special clearance from air traffic controllers allowed the pilot to fly through the controlled airspace around Burbank and Van Nuys, but it did not give him “blanket clearance” to continue on, an F.A.A. official said.

Beyond Burbank’s airspace, he was on his own.

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“A pilot is responsible for determining whether it is safe to fly in current and expected conditions, and a pilot is also responsible for determining flight visibility,” said the F.A.A. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss details of the investigation.

Once the pilot left Burbank’s control zone, the official added, it would have been up to him to either make sure there were appropriate visual flight conditions, or transition to flying solely with the use of instruments, which would have required additional F.A.A. clearance.

In an audio recording of the flight’s last communications, posted online, an air traffic controller can be heard asking the pilot if he had asked for “flight following,” which allows controllers to track the flight and alert pilots to any traffic hazards, under his “special” visual flight clearance. The controller, just before losing radio contact, noted that in any case the helicopter was “too low for flight following at this time.”

Mr. Zobayan, 50, had flown Mr. Bryant before and was not only certified to fly under instrument conditions but also to teach other pilots seeking to obtain their own instrument ratings. He had no accidents or enforcement actions on his record, according to the F.A.A.

Mr. Zobayan learned to fly from Group 3 Aviation, which is based at the Van Nuys airport, in 1998, after taking a sightseeing flight over the Grand Canyon. He later worked as an instructor at Group 3.

Pilots who gathered at the school on Monday declined to give their names but described Mr. Zobayan as an experienced and meticulous operator. They said they were perplexed by the accident.

“Supercautious, supersmart,” one of the instructors said. “I can’t see him making this kind of mistake.”

Kurt Deetz, a helicopter pilot who once flew for Island Express Helicopters, which operated the aircraft Mr. Bryant was on, described Mr. Zobayan as “a great guy” with a “big smile” who was “always laughing.”

He said Mr. Zobayan was an experienced pilot who “knew the weather patterns” of greater Los Angeles. He said that the grounding of L.A.P.D. flights does not normally mean that private pilots will cancel their flights. The Police Department, he said, is often overly cautious.

“It’s not like, oh the L.A.P.D.’s not flying, we’re not flying,” he said.

Investigators are focusing on the weather as one of the likely causes. But based on eyewitness accounts about the sound of the helicopter and its movements before the crash, investigators have not ruled out mechanical failure.

But some of those who are familiar with the type of aircraft said a mechanical breakdown was an unlikely cause.

Video by CBS News

“It would have had to be really just a one-in-a-million stroke of bad luck to have had a mechanical problem right when getting into the clouds,” said Jeff Wise, an aviation expert and pilot who learned to fly in Southern California.

When a pilot enters fog and loses his sense of direction, “it’s a combination of disorientation and mental workload,” Mr. Wise said. “You have a small amount of time to make a very important decision.”

Mr. Wise said that pilots by nature want to finish their missions — an inclination that he called “get-there-itis” that can be heightened when flying a high-profile passenger like Mr. Bryant.

“Pilots are determined to complete their mission and that can be a dangerous mind-set,” he said. “And if you’ve got Kobe Bryant in the back seat you don’t want to disappoint.”

Mr. Deetz, the pilot who in the past has flown Mr. Bryant around Los Angeles, said pilots never make decisions based on their passengers’ desires. “The pilot is the final authority for safe operations of the aircraft,” he said. “Nobody wants to die.”

In Calabasas, at the church where Mr. Daehlin heard the helicopter, Pastor Bob Bjerkaas said he was leading Sunday school when he also heard it flying over — and then the loud crunch.

He said he did not know what had happened until a little later, during the main Sunday service, when he was delivering his sermon on the suffering of Job and the brevity of life. Someone from the congregation who had been looking at the newsfeed on a phone interjected, saying several people had been killed in a helicopter crash, including Kobe Bryant.

“It was a reminder that the time we have is an instant,” he said, “and we need to think about what we can do to make our lives matter each day.”

Dave Philipps reported from Calabasas, Calif., Tim Arango from Los Angeles and Louis Keene from Santa Ana, Calif. Alan Blinder contributed reporting from Atlanta.

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The three children found dead at their Dublin home last Friday will be buried together today. The details for the funerals were announced yesterday, with the notice saying the siblings were the "cherished children of Andrew and Deirdre" and they would be "sorrowfully missed by everyone". The funeral will take place in the Church of The Holy Family, in Rathcoole, at 11am with burial taking place in Newcastle cemetery.

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