Kobe Bryant crash: Unanswered questions from Kobe’s crash
One week on from the crash that killed basketball legend Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter and seven other people, the world is still in shock.
And while the adored sportsman’s family are left to pick up the pieces and millions around the globe mourn his death, there are still unanswered questions about what led to the tragedy.
Some of those questions may never be answered.
It should have been a normal Sunday morning for Bryant, who told reporters back in 2018 he would often take helicopter rides to maximise his family time and beat LA’s infamously congested traffic.
Earlier that morning, Bryant and his daughter Gianna were taking communion before a church service.
Father Steve Sallot with the Orange County Church told local media the sportsman said a prayer in the chapel just before leaving at around 7am.
He would be one of the last people to see Bryant and his daughter alive – as just over two hours later they would both be dead.
According to the flight tracking site FlightRadar24.com, Bryant’s Sikorsky S-76B helicopter took off from Orange County, California, at 9.06am.
It was headed from the southern Los Angeles area to the northern Los Angeles suburbs.
The group was travelling to Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, California, for a basketball match in which Gianna would play and the NBA great would coach her team.
It was an uneventful flight at first. But minutes before the crash, pilot Ara Zobayan was trying to get special permission to fly though foggy conditions.
Seconds before the crash that killed all nine people on-board, the Mr Zobayan told air traffic control he was trying to avoid a cloud layer. It was the last time anyone on the ground heard from him.
Mr Zobayan had been climbing out of the clouds when the chartered aircraft banked left and began a sudden 365m descent that lasted nearly a minute.
It slammed into a fog-shrouded hillside, scattering debris more than 152m.
Since there’s no black box recording, some questions about what happened to the helicopter in the frantic moments may never be answered. However, it’s anticipated an investigation by air authorities will clear up some of the questions.
Here are some of the key mysteries of Bryant’s helicopter crash.
WHY WERE THEY FLYING WHEN THE WEATHER WAS SO BAD?
Investigators will focus what role bad weather had in the tragic crash. They have said this is the most likely cause, but how big a role it had is not yet clear.
Bryant’s helicopter was given special permission to fly in the foggy weather that was so bad the Los Angeles Police Department grounded its helicopters that morning.
So when Bryant’s approached Burbank, where the hills begin to rise above the Los Angeles basin, conditions were less than ideal for his pilot.
When they arrived, controllers kept the aircraft circling for 12 minutes in order to clear other traffic before issuing “special” visual clearance to allow Bryant’s flight to pass through their airspace in foggy conditions.
A Federal Aviation Administration official told reporters they assumed Mr Zobayan would maintain legal clearance from clouds or seek clearance to fly on instruments.
But they then lost communication with the pilot. Flight plan analysis published by New York Magazine shows he was flying above hilly terrain and in thick fog using visual flight clearance, which means relying on sight rather than instruments to fly.
In an audio recording of the flight’s last communications, an air traffic controller asks the pilot if he has asked for “flight following”, which allows controllers to track the flight and alert pilots to any traffic hazards, under his “special” visual flight clearance.
However, the controller, just before losing radio contact, noted that in any case the helicopter was “too low for flight following at this time.”
In the final communications, the pilot advised they were climbing to avoid a cloud layer, Jennifer Homendy of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) told reporters.
“When asked what the pilot planned to do, there was no reply,” she said.
She said a radar suggested that the helicopter ascended to 700m. After circling for around 15 minutes, the helicopter plummeted more than 150 metres in just 15 seconds before smashing into a Los Angeles hillside – killing all nine people on-board.
Business Insiderreports that just the day before the crash, Bryant and his entourage had taken a very similar trip.
However, the chopper ended up taking an unexpected route on that fatal day and was ordered to circle to allow another aircraft to land.
Investigators will look into whether this delay may have forced the pilot to navigate less familiar territory at a time when he was already dealing with bad weather that could have severely limited his visibility.
WAS THERE SOMETHING WRONG WITH THE CHOPPER?
The Sikorsky S-76B is a favourite among the rich and famous. Even US President Donald Trump owns a $US7 million ($A10.4 million) customised version of the aircraft.
Bryant’s former pilot Kurt Deetz told the Los Angeles Times: “The likelihood of a catastrophic twin-engine failure on that aircraft – it just doesn’t happen.”
He also said Bryant’s chopper was in “fantastic” condition, comparing it to a Cadillac.
However, it’s been revealed this week that it did not have a recommended warning system to alert the pilot he was too close to the ground.
The Terrain Awareness and Warning System would have sounded an alarm if the aircraft was in danger.
Meanwhile, those who knew Mr Zobayan described him as a meticulous and experienced helicopter pilot who was used to the weather patterns of greater Los Angeles. They are perplexed by the accident.
One instructor described him as a “super cautious, super smart” pilot.
“I can’t see him making this kind of mistake,” he told The New York Times.
WAS THE CHOPPER GOING TOO FAST?
This is just one of several questions about the crash that is not yet known.
Other questions include who gave the final say on the helicopter taking off in foggy conditions and why could the chopper not clear the hillside?
A probe into the crash is still in its early stages and a final determination is months away, but even then there may be questions still unanswered.
Ms Homendy told reporters the NTSB was examining the possibility that issues other than weather played a role in the crash.
“We take a broad look at everything around an investigation, around an accident,” she said. “We look at man, machine and the environment, and weather is just a small portion of that.”
In addition to 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.
Originally published as Unanswered questions from Kobe’s crash