Kobe Crash – A Safety Wake-Up Call

We all were shocked and saddened this week by the tragic helicopter crash in California that claimed the lives of 9 people including charismatic basketball star Kobe Bryant and his 13-year old daughter. There are the usual crazy conspiracy theories all over the internet, but here are a few cogent thoughts from aviators.

These sad events are always a wake-up call for all pilots to sharpen our risk management skills and keep our instrument skills sharp in case they are suddenly needed. Fortunately, if you examine the whole of aviation, it is remarkably safe.  As aviation educators, we must maintain high standards of excellence and rigorously train these important skills to keep all our aviators safe. No one wants to rush to judgment but here are a few ideas and comments:

…and from Richard McSpadden at the Aviation Safety Institute (posted on FaceBook and reprinted here with permission): 

The tragic helicopter crash claiming the lives of Kobe Bryant and 8 others reinforces some sober learning for all pilots, regardless of the NTSB’s findings. 1) Flying vfr into imc conditions is dangerous, regardless of your experience and ratings. A third of these accidents happen to experienced, ifr-rated pilots. 2) The nether land between kind-of flying on instruments and kind-of flying via visual reference is far more challenging than just flying on instruments. This hybrid arena lends itself to visual illusions and spatial disorientation. The consequences of which are exacerbated by proximity to the ground and reduced time-to-impact. 3) Reduced visibility in hilly terrain is especially treacherous. Lights from cars, houses, other sources have a subliminal disorienting effect that creates false horizons, difficult to recognize until its too late. 4) Fog, and in particular coastal fog is highly unpredictable and can move in dense waves. 5) Flights, conditions and decisions must be assessed differently when you operate single-pilot. This flight, under these conditions, was extraordinarily demanding for a single pilot.
Fortunately, most pilots are aware of these issues, I’m sure this pilot was. By all accounts, he was an exceptional pilot. But it only takes one lapse in judgment, on one flight. It’s possible the NTSB findings will reveal a completely different cause for the accident…but its also unlikely they will. The crash is an unfathomable tragedy for the families involved. It also damages the credibility of general aviation and helicopters. These operations have a phenomenal safety record, but we don’t hear about the millions of flights a year that operate safely. We only hear about the tragic ones.

The NTSB does a comprehensive investigation (as with the Hudson River Liberty crash last year) and will have more details in a year or so. In the meantime, extract what lessons we all can learn and fly safely out there…and often!


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About the author

David St. George

David St. George is an FAA DPE (Sport to Multi ATP) and a Part 135 charter pilot flying the Pilatus PC-12 in the NYC area. He recently renewed his Master Instructor for the tenth time and is a Charter member of SAFE. Formerly a 141 Chief Instructor for over 25 years, with a Gold Seal CFI. David started flying at 16 and has logged over 15,000 hours. He owns a 1946 7AC Aeronca Champ and wrote the SAFE Toolkit app.


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