Kobe Bryant Crash from a Flight Instructor’s Perspective — AviatorCast 139
I’ve held off talking about the tragic Kobe Bryant crash. First, I didn’t want to see as thought I was capitalizing on the popularity of the event. Second, I’m always slow to judge these things until more facts come out.
Now that we know more about the accident, I thought I’d share what we know so far about the event, and what we can do to avoid making similar mistakes in our own flying.
In this podcast we will discuss:
- My initial reaction and thoughts
- The details after several days
- New details on the accident itself
- What we know about the pilot, the helicopter and the operator
- What can we learn?
- What can we DO?
I think you’ll find a lot of enlightening thoughts in this podcast, and gain some closure for this event. Just remember — accident reports and the regulations are written in blood. And we should be so careful not to repeat these costly accidents.
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On this episode of AviatorCast, the Kobe Bryant crash from a flight instructor’s perspective.
Welcome, aviators, to another episode of AviatorCast. We load up your flight bag with useful flight training topics, interviews, and aviation passion. Let’s kick the tires and light the fires. Coming to you from Angle of Attack headquarters in Homer, Alaska, here’s your host and flight instructor, Chris Palmer.
All right, everyone. Welcome to AviatorCast. It’s great to have you here today. Today we have a little bit more of a sobering subject, so I don’t want to act happy or anything like that. I guess I just want to be respectful to this particular subject because it is something that’s been on almost everyone’s mind, at least a little bit the last several weeks. Seems to have even stuck through the regular crazy news cycle, and has gotten a lot of attention. And that is the Kobe Bryant accident that happened on January 26th.
In recording this podcast right now, it is February 14th. It’s actually Valentine’s Day. So, it hasn’t been long, but there are a number of details that we know already. So, in this podcast, we are going to talk about that crash. We’re going to talk about my initial reactions to it, just personally, and my thoughts on it, and a little bit on how I treat accidents in general: the details we received after several days, the new details from the NTSB on the accident itself. So, some sobering information there. What we know about the pilot, the helicopter, and the operator, which is enlightening too.
And then, my perspective, this is my opinion and everything on what we can learn and what we can do to learn from this and make it a positive for the future of aviation. So, that’s what we’re going to get into now. I hope that you guys find this useful. I want to be really respectful through this process. I’ve avoided having the knee-jerk reaction to come right out and talk about this. Generally, I hold back on accidents as a whole. I would say always. You’ve probably never seen me do any accident reporting, or investigations, or anything like that, on my channel because I don’t want it to seem like I am exploiting these situations at all.
And so, even though there was a whole lot of media coverage on the Kobe Bryant accident, I don’t want to be anywhere near that and make it seem like I’m exploiting that for views or anything. But as I talked to some other people that are followers, they said that they would really value my perspective on this. We did cover this a little bit in the flight instructor refresher course this last weekend. So, I feel like it is a little bit of my duty as a professional instructor, as an aviation educator to share my thoughts on this.
I’m not sure if there will be people that are non-aviation people that watch this podcast or this video, but I hope that if there are, that you can glean some more information from the professional side of aviation that we think about when we think about accidents like this. We take this very seriously. And, of course, as even a pilot community, we’re all disheartened by a lot of what we’ve seen from this. But we learn and we move forward, and we do what we can to prevent something like this from happening again.
So, my initial reaction was one where I wasn’t really impacted too much because I don’t have a personal connection to Kobe Bryant. I am not a Lakers fan. I’m not really even a basketball fan. I was back in the day when the Utah Jazz did really well with Stockton and Malone. I grew up in Utah. He came into the picture at the tail end of that journey. So, I knew who he was. I knew that he was one of the greats, and of course, the name right away popped out. I know who he is.
When I heard that this whole thing happened, I didn’t necessarily have a personal emotional reaction to the fact that it was Kobe Bryant. I did have more of an emotional reaction to wanting to know who else was on board because I knew that obviously someone was flying him, and there had to be other people on board. Initially, they were even saying only five people were on board. It turns out that there ended up being nine people on board.
But I just wanted to know who else was on board because there was loss of life even beyond the celebrity of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna. There were other people involved that meant a lot to people as well. So, that’s one thing that impacted me initially, that the loss of life, no matter what it was, was very important, and critical, and sad. I wanted to know more about that rather than it just being about Kobe Bryant, but also being about the others.
I am not a Monday morning quarterback. I can say that with confidence. What that means is that the morning after an accident like this, I don’t sit there and act like I know everything, and that I could give advice or give facts about the situation. So, football is on Sunday, and the game’s over, everything’s been done, everything’s been played. And on Monday, the quarterback comes in, keyboard warrior, whatever it is, and tries to add their advice. So, that’s why I’ve held off on this topic quite a bit. Because there is a lot of information that comes out fairly quickly, especially high profile events like this, but it does take several days for the facts to start to come together to realize what exactly happened.
So, I always wait for info, no matter what it is, and I would ask you to do the same too. If you don’t do that, then what ends up happening is you draw conclusions to what it was and what happened. And a lot of the times, we miss a lesson in that because we thought it was something that it wasn’t, and move on to other news or whatever it is. But there’s a lot to learn in the details on these aviation accidents, which makes it very important.
So, I wanted to name the people that were on board, and share a little bit more of my emotional reaction after a few days. Because, obviously, there was a lot of media coverage on this. I even have some videos to share with you too. So, the people that were on board where Kobe Bryant, he was young, he was 41 years old, his daughter, Gianna, John Altobelli, his wife, Keri, and his daughter, Alyssa. His daughter Alyssa played with this basketball camp, as I understand it, that Kobe Bryant does which is called the Mamba Basketball Camp or something like that.
So, John was a local kind of baseball guy, and taught baseball at a college here, coached baseball. So, he, his wife, and his daughter, Alyssa, were on board. Christina Mauser was an elementary basketball coach, and she was also an assistant coach at the Mamba Academy. And Sarah Chester, who brought her daughter, Peyton, along. Peyton was a player at the Mamba Academy. So, her mother and the daughter, Peyton, were both on board, Sarah Chester and Peyton Chester. And then Ara Zobayan, who was the pilot. So, those were the nine people on board that passed away.
I just thought I’d honor their names by mentioning them name by name, and that they… I read some stories about each one of them. Each one of them had such an impact on people. Christina Mauser, for example, it hits a little bit more close home to me because she is a mother of three kids, and now the dad said that he’s in crisis because now he has three kids to take care of, and he doesn’t know what he’s going to do. I’m a father of two young boys, so I think about that a lot.
But a beautiful group here, people that were working toward great goals. Apparently, the Mamba Basketball Academy was just really, really cool and good. I caught a glimpse of that from some of the videos that I started to watch about Kobe Bryant. And so, I’m going to play a couple of those now, and just give you the impact that they had on me. I think that you will glean something from them as well. So, let me pull those up now.
So, this one is Kobe Bryant just talking, I guess, inspirationally. He’s not even talking about baseball, he’s just talking about things in general. I feel like the words that he was echoing are often the words that I echo on this podcast about aviation, about chasing your dreams and putting in the hard work. So, let’s listen to this from Kobe Bryant. Again, these videos are what gave me a little bit more emotional connection to who he is, and why it was such a loss for, I guess you could say humanity.
So sorry I can’t be with you tonight. However, I couldn’t completely miss the chance to take a moment to share some thoughts with all of you. The lesson I cherish the most is how important it is to love what you do. If you love what you dom and it’s making you happy, all the hard work and perseverance will pay off. I once had a guidance counselor tell me that I shouldn’t play basketball, that it would never amount to anything for me. His negativity towards me made me stronger.
You can’t stop people from trying to limit your dreams, but you can stop it from becoming a reality. Your dreams are up to you. I encourage you to always be curious, always seek out things you love, and always work hard once you find it. So, with that, I’ll let you carry on with your evening. Please know I’m thinking of you, supporting you, and encouraging you always. Peace.
I feel like that particular video echoes a lot of my feelings about aviation. It’s a passion. It does take hard work. I was told pretty early on that I couldn’t do it, and I didn’t take no for an answer. Just like the encouraging nature of Kobe Bryant, I saw a lot of myself in him in what I do in encouraging others. It really impacted me and showed me that, gosh, this guy was… he was doing really good things with his celebrity.
I wasn’t privy to that while he was alive, but he was out there encouraging people and helping them achieve their dreams, and being a positive force, which I, I don’t know, I just think is so important in today’s day and age. There are people out there that are still doing that. Follow that up with another video that he did here where he’s discussing why he decided to start traveling by helicopter. So, this is a very, very interesting look into why he was jumping around via helicopter. Let’s listen to this.
… after school activities, all that fun stuff, even on weekends. But then, traffic started getting really, really bad. I was sitting in traffic and I wound up missing a school play because I was sitting in traffic, and this thing just kept mounting. I had to figure out a way where I could still train and focus on the craft, but still not compromise family time. And so, that’s when I looked into helicopters and be able to get down and back in 15 minutes. That’s when it started.
And so, my routine was always the same; weights early in the morning, kids to school, fly down, practice like crazy, do my extra work, media, everything I needed to do, fly back, get back in carpool line, pick the kids up. My wife was like, “Listen, I can pick them up.” I’m like, “No, no, no, I want to do that.” Because you have road trips, sometimes you don’t see your kids. So, every chance I get to see them and spend time with them, even if it’s 20 minutes in a car, I want that.
So, literally, the reason why Kobe Bryant decided to use helicopters to get around wasn’t to fit more fancy dinners or whatever. It was to have more family time, to have more time for his family to do the small things that matter so much. And that really impacted me as well. Say whatever you want about Kobe Bryant, I know that there’s a history there as well with the law, apparently, with the case. Anyway, leave that all behind. Humans are humans. We’re here now. We have someone that is encouraging the community, he’s a family guy, and a great example to others. I just think that that was also really impactful for me.
Now, those are both… Obviously one was broadcasted maybe at a basketball game. The other one was on some podcast or video show of some kind. But this one is for an individual. So, apparently, this guy ran across Kobe and told him that his son had basketball tryouts, and Kobe wanted to record a personal message for just one person. And this is what he said here. Again, relate this to aviation, because I think that there… even from Kobe, there’s so much to learn about aviation.
What’s going on? It’s Kobe. And Paps tells me you got tryouts next week. You made it through the first day of tryouts, and now here you are again. So, the most important thing, [inaudible 00:14:17] to do the best. Don’t worry about the person next to you. Don’t worry about the other kids that are playing, just play your absolute best. Play for the love of the game, and everything will work out just fine. Basketball is just like anything else, the more you do it, the better you get. I wish there was a magic wand. Actually, I don’t because then it takes away the fun, the actual part of the journey. So, just work hard, you’ll get better. Best of luck to you, my brother. Much love.
Isn’t that true? That in aviation, it takes a lot of hard work. He said, “I wish I had a magic wand, and no, actually, I don’t because that’s part of the journey.” It’s so true. Anyway, I just thought I’d share you those actual examples because I’m sure there are those of you out there that aren’t emotionally connected to Kobe Bryant. But through seeing those examples, you can see why this is something that impacted people so much because this is how he operated, this is what he did after basketball. I’m sure he was like this during basketball too.
Anyway, we can all gain from excellent people like Kobe Bryant. It really helps us become more excellent no matter where we’re at. And of course, those of you that are here listening to this podcasts or watching it on YouTube, you are the type of people that are trying to grow a career in aviation or just become a safe recreational pilot in aviation. There is something to learn from that. Absolutely. So, I just thought I would maybe bring it a little bit closer to home so you could have maybe a little bit of your own emotion behind this now.
So, now we’re going to get into more of the nitty-gritty details of this accident; what we know, what happened, et cetera. So, here is a synopsis of what happened during the flight the day that this happened. If I miss a thing here and there facts-wise, I’m sorry. I’ve tried to do my best to research it. There are some pretty good videos on YouTube that show the exact 3D path of the flight and also the communications, but this is the gist of what happened, without rehashing all of that material.
So, the helicopter was on a flight from John Wayne to Camarillo, and that’s actually where I’m at now. I’m recording this literally hundred yards from the runway. The weather was poor on that day. It was marginal VFR at best, but sometimes it was IFR. The pilot was flying low, following roads and contending with airspace and terrain along the way. This is pretty common for helicopters to do. They’ll follow roads, they have lower weather minimums because they’re more maneuverable. So, they were doing the typical thing of helicopter traffic and picking their way through the weather.
They had to hold outside of Burbank for a little bit doing some circles because there was some IFR traffic in there. So, that gives you an idea for the type of traffic we’re talking about, or rather the type of day we’re talking about. The people were actually shooting approaches and doing IFR type things.
Eventually, he was cleared to go through… He meaning the pilot, the pilot was cleared to go through Burbank and Virgenes space and up into the Simi Valley. There’s a lot of airspace sandwiched in there. Burbank and Virgenes are right next to each other, and then there’s some mountains and then Camarillo to the West. So, they were trying to work their way that direction. There is a way to go through the Simi Valley, but apparently, once they got there and looked, the weather wasn’t good. And so, they decided to go over Highway 101, which would go through the mountains and up over the top. It does kind of go up over a hump or ridge, and then back down into the Camarillo or the Ventura Valley, Oxnard area. I don’t know if that makes sense to anyone, but goes up the mountains and then comes back down.
So, during that process, the weather was persistent, like a persistent overcast layer. Pretty typical of Southern California, California in general, of some of the coastal weather that can happen. And so, that’s what was happening that day is some persistent layers. At some point, he requested a special VFR, which would allow him to fly at lower minimums and still stay legal.
So, a special VFR is something not a lot of people know about. It’s technically still VFR, but your minimums come way down. I know for airplanes, it’s one statute mile clear of clouds. That is really low, very, very low. Even three statute miles, 3152, which is another kind of minimums we use for aviation is still… when you’re in that weather, it’s still pretty low. So, this was low weather that they were dealing with, and mostly contending with the ceiling.
They were also reporting two miles visibility at times. So, they were contending with a lot weather-wise. So, the weather wasn’t good, and they tried another way. They went, again, over Highway 101. And as the terrain was rising, they were following the road and they kept climbing, but the ceilings… As they were getting closer to the coast, or maybe the weather was interacting with the mountains a little bit, the ceiling was coming down a little bit too. So, they eventually ran out of space between their altitude and the road and the clouds. And they flew into the clouds.
So, the pilot executed a climb. He communicated with ATC that they would need advisories, and that is one of the last radio calls that they received from the pilot. The pilot wasn’t necessarily on flight following anything at that point because he was so low over terrain, so they didn’t have great radar contact with them and great communication.
Now, from here, the details are that the helicopter entered a left turning descent, at one point reaching as much as 4,000 feet per minute negative. So, a negative descent of 4,000 feet per minute to the left. And if you look at the radar path, it’s just a slow but steep curve right into the mountain. It impacted terrain. This is an important fact that came out from the NTSB. It impacted terrain with the engines running, the blades turning, and the tail rotor turning as well. So, that says to us that the aircraft was completely fine. It wasn’t some sort of mechanical failure of some kind that caused this.
So, a little bit more about the pilot. People always ask, “Is this someone that was really inexperienced? What happened? Why would someone do this? If the helicopter was operating perfectly fine, how could it have just crashed? And then you start to look to the pilot, and try to lay blame on them, which it’s almost always the pilot’s fault when it comes to an accident. So, the pilot had 8,200 hours, nearly 1,300 hours in this type of helicopter, which is no small amount of time. He was also an instructor with an instrument instructor license, and had recently gone through recurrent training with his company.
He even had training on inadvertent entrance into IMC during that recurrent training, which if I remember correctly, well, it was done in 2019. I can’t remember if it was March or if it was July of 2019. I’m getting the medical date and the recurrent date mixed up. The helicopter was a very capable Sikorsky S76B. I don’t know a lot about helicopters, but it’s a big executive helicopter. I think it has two turbine engines on it. It was IFR equipped and capable, but not permitted to fly under the operation. Again, it was in good flying condition, per the NTSB so far, at the time of impact.
So, that’s an important fact to lay out there, some important facts to lay out there because there’s a lot of media stuff coming out that they didn’t have a cockpit voice recorder, and they didn’t have a black box, and it wasn’t allowed to fly under instrument conditions. So, we need to differentiate between allowed to and actually having the instruments to do it because there’s a difference there between the type of operation that they’re legally allowed to do at this outfit and what the aircraft is capable of doing.
The aircraft was capable of doing all of it, plenty of IFR, IFR in general. It was all equipped. Nice helicopter as you would expect. So, it was equipped, it was capable. The pilot was trained and capable, but they weren’t allowed to do it under their operation. So, we need to have the distinction there.
Cockpit voice recorders and black boxes are not common in smaller crafts. Even medium sized aircraft, they’re not common. We get that stuff once we get up into the airline category aircraft. So, there’s a lot of data that they were still able to draw from this entire situation with radar returns and things, but it’s not common to have those sorts of things on board. But again, going back to the fact that this was a capable IFR aircraft, the pilot was capable, experienced, very experienced, and so there shouldn’t have been any issues there.
So, now we get into more of my opinion, and this is the stuff that I would teach a student that we can learn from this entire situation. As pilots, we work very hard to make sure that we learn from other people’s mistakes so that we don’t have to repeat them. And if we can draw anything positive from this, we try to and try to make sure that there’s not another situation like this in the future. So, I’m going to tell you some of the things we can learn from this, and some of the things we should learn, and then what we can do. Maybe some action steps we can take. Even if it’s in the midst of the flight that is deteriorating like this, what we can do to remain safe.
So, what we can learn. Some of the major types of accidents in aviation remain the same. In this case, it looks like it was VMC into IMC, which we had subsequent disorientation, which means that the pilot’s regular physical cues on his body were lying to him. And those cues of the body were not matching up to those that were on the instruments. So, the reason why we make such a distinction between flying with visual flight rules and instruments is because of this, because we’re used to standing here on the ground as humans. We’re used to all of the gravity cues and the inner ear cues that keep us up right here. But in an airplane, or a helicopter in this case, it’s totally different, and can lead to the body telling you that you’re doing something other than what is reality.
That’s why we rely on the instruments to tell us what way is up, which way is left, right, et cetera, so that we can fly it precisely with just the instruments without even being able to see outside. So, this VMC and the IMC, or visual conditions into instrument conditions, means that a pilot goes from not being able to see anything to then being in instrument conditions where he or she has to rely on just the instruments. This can happen not only in clouds like this, but it can happen at nighttime and other disorienting situations where there are some visual illusions.
But this type of accident, this VMC into IMC continues to be a killer of pilots, mainly because pilots, in general, are a mission-oriented type of people. They get the job done sort of thing. So, they press on into situations where they shouldn’t have, and the result is something like this without the proper training. As we can see here, even with the proper training, professionals can get caught up in issues with this.
So, it’s quite scary. It’s quite scary that we keep repeating these accidents. So, again, it appears that the pilot got disoriented. Those body cues were maybe really hard for him to fight. Clearly, something was going on, got disoriented, entered IMC and lost control of the aircraft. It wasn’t spinning out of control, it wasn’t necessarily falling, but it was powered. He got disoriented and flew a left descending turn into the ground.
So, rewinding this whole process and looking back to the flight, the pilot persisted into poor weather regardless of the conditions. Now, it’s likely that this was something that this pilot had done hundreds of times before, especially if he had flown around this area a lot of his career, which I don’t really know the full workup of his logbook. But this is likely something that the pilot had done many times before.
Now, we can get into a false sense of security by doing something we know we’re not supposed to do, but we get this confirmation, after doing it several hundred times, that we don’t face the consequences. And so, what ends up happening, a lot of times, is people will go hundreds of times or thousands of times without an incident in a safety critical situation like this. And then that one time it bites them, and that’s what results in the problem. So, just because you can get away with something doesn’t mean that you should. And just because you can get away with something doesn’t mean that you’re actually going to get bit now. You might get bit, or get hurt, or kill yourself many steps many years down the road because of that attitude, because of that thing that you’re doing.
That’s pretty intense language, but that’s just the truth of it. Also to mention, someone like this that is flying celebrities around, VIPs, very important people… VIPs, they can be the type that would apply a lot of pressure to the pilots. I think, in a lot of situations, we’re in a healthy place with that now where people realize that these accidents happen and it can happen to anyone, and it’s up to the pilot to do the safe thing.
And as much as the pilots can resist that and know that, we still put pressure on ourselves, I can tell you that, that we put pressure on ourselves. We still put pressure on ourselves. I can tell you that, that we put pressure on ourselves to accomplish the mission, accomplished the flight. And so, even though what I heard is that Kobe basically acquiesced to the professionals… the professional pilots that were flying him said, “It’s up to your decision, keep us safe.” I heard that even though that’s the case, it doesn’t mean that the pilot himself would not still feel an amount of pressure from some angle.
This pilot was not the owner of the company. He was the chief pilot in that company. But maybe there’s pressure from the employer. Who knows if you consistently can’t deliver for the customer, if you’re afraid that that customer will leave you? A bunch of different pressures. So, that external pressure can be added just by virtue of being a pilot. And of course, carrying around very important people, you know that. He knows who Kobe Bryant is. I’m sure there’s plenty of other celebrities that he’s flown around. So, that’s all part of it.
Pre-flight planning would have made very clear that it was going to be this type of day, and the pilot was unlikely surprised by the condition. So, the pilot knew what he was getting into. He knew that this weather wasn’t going to be good moving up through where he was going. You never know exactly what the weather’s going to be, unless you have actual cameras there, which in some cases is the case. We have those in Alaska. Unless you have the actual cameras there, you’re going off by a lot of guesses, educated guesses on what the weather is going to be, and some observations. So, that’s also something to keep in mind when we’re looking at this.
But he knew what he was getting into. At least we think we know what he was getting into, and persisted for quite a long time into these conditions because he started in John Wayne, went northbound into Burbank, and then when westbound through the Valley, and followed the 101 up. So, they were deep into their flight by the time all this transpired. And likely didn’t save themselves any time, that doesn’t really matter. I’m not going to make that comparison. But we know what happened at the end.
So, those are some things we can learn. Here’s what we can do. Here’s maybe some more actionable steps that we as pilots can do, learning specifically, from this situation. So, have personal minimums and stick to them. There’s a personal minimums worksheet that you can find on the FAA website that can help you determine what your personal minimum should be. We, as pilots, we have regulatory minimums already, which are dictated by the FAA, but our personal minimums are either at those minimums. But I would suggest unless you’re a very proficient pilot, they should be above those minimums in some way.
And there are some areas of ambiguity that you’re going to have to figure out anyway on what you will and won’t fly in. So, having those personal minimums, having that margin between what the actual regulatory minimum is and what your minimum is gives you a buffer for those situations that might creep up where you can do something different, get out of the situation you’re in, have room to land, call it a day, sit there wherever you are, starve, it doesn’t matter, but you’re alive. So, have those personal minimums.
Make your PIC authority very clear. You don’t have to be a jerk about it, but you are the pilot in command, the PIC, and you are ultimately responsible for keeping people safe and keeping them alive. Sometimes there may come a time where you are keeping someone alive against their wishes. In other words, they’ll be pressuring you to do something, wanting you to do something that you know is unsafe, but you are the pilot in command. You need to decide what is safe. And at times, that could be very inconvenient, and even annoying to people. But that is something that you need to do.
You need to take that mantle upon yourself and say, “Hey, this is who I am. This is what I’m going to do.” And deal with the consequences for what they are is better than paying the ultimate consequence of losing your life.
Next one, stop. Just stop what you’re doing. If you know it’s deteriorating and is bad, stop and divert. Do whatever you need to do to stop it now. The pilot passed over several suitable airports, very suitable airports, and the passengers could have gone by car from their destination in a very short amount of time to get to where they were going. So, it wasn’t that this was the absolute only option to get to this event. I know that’s a bit of a stretch, and that’s making a lot of judgements, but yeah, there are plenty of places the pilot could have stopped and said, “Hey, this isn’t working.”
He could’ve stopped even between Virgenes going up the 101 and seeing how low the clouds were… That’s really the last chance… seeing how low the clouds were to say, “Hey, I’m going to visually turn around right here, and we’re going to go back to Burbank and land.” That’s last ditch effort. So, even that could have worked all the way past those other decisions.
That’s likely where the decision would be made for a professional pilot of his caliber. I’m not judging him for anything that he did up until he entered the clouds, other than he knew he was picking his way through whether that he’d probably gotten away with many times before. But there was a decision point there, a last chance, and they didn’t take it. It’s not even to say that that was their last chance. The pilot could have… and was making the correct decision at the time to climb. Even though their operation wasn’t allowed to do IFR, he was making the correct decision to just climb up, get above the mountains, get level or whatever, and deal with the consequences from there. But he pushed it too far.
Anyway, there is always this break in the chain of events that happens much further before where the consequences are small that you can make the decision to stop. Otherwise, yes, you have more chances, but the consequences and the potential outcomes become much more critical. Because let’s just say when that pilot, if he decided to turn over the 101, still in visual conditions, if he had enough room to turn in that valley and come back the other direction. It’s not an airplane, right? A helicopter can hover and pivot, but still, maybe there wasn’t enough room there.
Anyway, the consequences just get much greater the deeper you go down. And the consequence here… the potential consequence of going VMC into IMC entering the clouds, a potential consequence was getting disoriented. And that’s exactly what happened, and ended the way it did. They were just several hundred feet from climbing above the cloud layer. The cloud layer, the tops were at 2,400 feet. They have cameras that prove this. They tops were at 2,400 feet, they were at about 1,200 feet when they entered the clouds and had a little bit of a climb going. They had not so much more to go, less than a thousand feet to go before they reached the tops of those clouds.
They were visual, and they would have had a horizon and everything. It’s crazy. It’s really, really unfortunate. So, just stop and divert, and stop it now. Just break the chain of events, whatever you can do. Don’t think that it can’t happen to you. I can’t emphasize this one enough. These same mistakes keep getting repeated by other pilots. So, I know that I said that as pilots, we try to learn from these scenarios, and this one as an instructor is really frustrating because they just keep happening.
And I get it. I’ve been in some scenarios where I understand how it’s easy or understandable to get in situations like this. I’ve been in a handful that are like this, and really had to find my way out of it and change what was happening. That’s what I did in every one of them. I decided to get out of there and do something different.
So, stop digging the hole, stop the domino effect, break the chain, whatever you want to call it, whatever cute little analogy you want to make. Just don’t think it can’t happen to you because this was an 8,200 hour experienced pilot that was probably flying almost every single day in this helicopter around this area. You can’t say this guy wasn’t experience. So, I know, for me, yes, I have some experience in some things, but I also know that I’ve seen way greater pilots go before me. So, I don’t intend on doing that. I intend on remaining humble.
Take ego out of your flying entirely. That means, go by what you know is guaranteed to be safe, not what you think could or might happen. In this example, thinking the weather might improve, or thinking that past might be fine, or whatever it is. Go by what you know is guaranteed. That is a safe path to take. Take ego out of it entirely, all those things. Get the itis, the invulnerability, the persisting into the bad weather.
This was built upon that a little bit. You are not anything special. So, you can be the most experienced professional and still make life altering mistakes. We learn that lesson again and again, and again, and again. This won’t be the last time we learn that lesson. There are many good professional pilots that make mistakes, and it ends up costing their lives.
And as terrible as the consequence was, in this case, of a handful of people dying, some wonderful people dying, I would still say… without knowing him personally, but just going by what I know, I would say that this was probably a very good pilot, and a very experienced pilot. I wouldn’t think anything different than that. I go on that. I don’t just take the stance that, “Oh, what an idiot for doing something like this?” You’re not learning the lesson if you take that stance.
And concluding with, we as pilots are the line of defense, often the last line of defense. Safety is absolutely and totally the most important thing we practice as pilots. Practice means we will do it when the time comes. So, let me repeat that again. We as pilots are the last line of defense. Safety is absolutely and totally the most important thing we practice as pilots. Practice means that we will do it when the time comes.
So, in concluding… And I don’t have any notes for this… but in concluding, I’m saddened we have to continue to learn these lessons again and again. I wish there wasn’t such a terrible consequence of learning these lessons. I hope that that sacrifice… I guess a sacrifice would be more of a willing sacrifice. But I hope that the tragedy of the Kobe Bryant incident or accident will save other people.
I just think it’s really unfortunate that we keep repeating these mistakes, but there actually is something that we as pilots, in particular, as professionals connected to this industry, that fly people like this around and just the everyday people in general, we have a huge responsibility to fly safely because we’re not only trying to get ourselves home, we’re trying to get other people home safely too, trying to get them here to there for business, and all these other things that are demanding of their life.
But inevitably, we’ve got to get them there safe or get them back safe, or stop somewhere safely, whatever it is. We’ve got to do whatever we can. I hope that you feel more inspired today to make changes to your aviation safety, to your mindset towards safety, to your commitment to break that chain that will happen in your aviation career. You break that chain and you stop. We never get second chances if it comes to a fatal accident. I guess there are people that have accidents that do have a second chance if they don’t pass away. But what I mean by that is we need to be able to make the consistent safe choices that lead to safe outcomes in aviation.
We will never know what would have or could have happened if we would have persisted into that bad situation. And so, in a sense, we don’t get the reward of knowing that, but we know that we always return home safely. And hopefully, flight after flight, year after a year, you continue to be a safe pilot that will return home safe to your family, that will help others return home safe to their family. And you’ll take that aspect, that very serious aspect of aviation, and really take it upon yourself to make a difference, even if it’s only for your own.
And so, that’s my sermon today. I hope that this podcast found you well, and I really appreciate it. Of course, comment with anything: if you have comments about this episode, if it really helped you, impacted you, the part you liked the most. You could even tell me the time code you like. If you are interested in aviation and you would like to learn aviation, I do an online ground school; Checkride Preparation at angleofattack.com. We do talk a lot about these safety issues.
So, really appreciate being here. Please spread the word for us of Angle of Attack and what we’re trying to do here. Really appreciate it. Really appreciate you being here. If you ever have a question, feel free to write me. Instagram is one of the best places right now to do that in direct messages. Keep being safe. And as always, throttle on.
We sincerely thank you for joining us on AviatorCast. Please subscribe through your favorite podcast service and leave a review. Check out more flight training resources at angleofattack.com. There, you can find this podcast, many free aviation training videos, as well as online ground school for private instrument, commercial, and CFI. Got a checkride coming up? Checkride ACE from Angle of Attack is your ultimate companion, guiding you through the process so you can conquer your big day. Thanks once again for joining us on AviatorCast. Turn left, contact ground point niner.
Chief Flight Instructor and President of Angle of Attack. Founded in 2006.
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