Helicopter Pilot Apparently Recommended Landing at Burbank Airport, but Kobe Overruled Him
Insider at the NTSB briefings says pilot wanted to land at Burbank Airport because of fog. Kobe just said "no."
February 2, 2020
A source who has been attending NTSB briefings for relatives of the Sunday, January 26, 2020 crash that took the lives of nine people, including basketball star Kobe Bryant, says that to a limited extent, the crash can be blamed on Kobe himself. This according to reports appearing in the LA Times.
The source, who asked not to be named, says that air traffic voice recordings substantiate that Ara Zobayan, the pilot of the doomed helicopter was concerned about heavy fog over the Calabasas flight path. He suggested that the helicopter turn around, land at Burbank airport, at a lower elevation. And then the party of eight passengers could take private automobiles to the Thousand Oaks event location. But Bryant overruled his concerns.
The relevant parts of the LA Times' article reads as follows:
"(pilot) Zobayan passed over the Los Angeles Zoo Sunday morning and requested to enter the controlled airspace around Burbank using "Special VFR" clearance because weather conditions had deteriorated to less than the minimum visibility for regular visual flying. At that point, pilots landing at Burbank and Van Nuys airports were required to fly using instruments. Zobayan was directed to "hold" while airport traffic cleared."
Another pilot who has flown celebrity clients like Bryant, noted that Zobayan bypassed Burbank airport and instead made the fateful decision to continue flying West.
Kurt Deetz, a former pilot for Island Express, told The Times he flew Bryant from 2014 to 2016, almost always in the same chopper - N72EX, "Two Echo X-ray." Bryant favored the model, which is preferred by celebrities for its comfortable interior and solid safety record, Deetz said. When Bryant retired from the NBA in 2016, he flew out of downtown Los Angeles in the same helicopter, wrapped in a gray-and-black paint scheme with his Mamba emblem on the side, Deetz said.
"If the weather was poor, Deetz said, Bryant's pilot would take one of two routes: over the Cahuenga Pass or continue up the freeway over the Los Angeles Zoo. When visibility was especially poor, he would fly over the zoo because it was at a lower elevation than the Cahuenga Pass."
"To continue was a critical decision. He could have anticipated the risky weather ahead and landed at Burbank. But pilots can be reluctant to call off a flight, Deetz said, especially with a VIP client. He said he's done it - called his passenger an Uber or, in Bryant's case, his private driver - but it's not easy."
Orange county attorney Scott Schutzman said that the factual scenario, could create civil liability for Kobe Bryant's considerable estate.
At 9:47 am on January 26, 2020, a Sikorsky S-76B helicopter crashed in Calabasas, en route to Camarillo, California. It was carrying former basketball player Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, six family friends including coach John Altobelli and his wife and daughter, and the pilot. All on board were killed. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Kobe_Bryant
On January 26, 2020, at 9:06 a.m., Bryant departed from John Wayne Airport (SNA) in Orange County, in a 1991 Sikorsky S-76B helicopter, registration N72EX, along with eight other people: his 13-year-old daughter Gianna; her 13-year-old teammates Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester and their parents Keri and John Altobelli (head baseball coach at Orange Coast College) and Sarah Chester; basketball assistant coach Christina Mauser; and pilot Ara Zobayan.
The Los Angeles Police Air Support Division had grounded its police helicopters on Sunday morning due to the poor weather conditions; Air Support Division rules require at least 2 miles of visibility and an 800-foot cloud ceiling.
At the time that N72EX took off from SNA, visibility was 5 miles with a cloud ceiling of 1,300 feet (400 m), and it was operating under visual flight rules (VFR).
Flying above the clouds would have been possible if the pilot had elected to operate under instrument flying rules, but that would have led to lengthy delays and detours (thereby using up any anticipated time savings) due to severe congestion in Los Angeles controlled airspace.
The helicopter would not have been afforded priority in such airspace because of Bryant's celebrity status.