Jan 27th, 2020

Kobe Bryant Helicopter Crash

Posted in Aviation News

The Kobe Bryant helicopter crash was like a “punch to the gut” for the sporting world Sunday afternoon.  Below is a summary of what we know so far.

Who was Kobe Bryant?

Kobe Bryant was the eldest son of Joe (Jelly Bean) and Pam Bryant.  Joe Bryant rotated as one of three centers on the Philadelphia Seventy Sixers great teams of the mid 1970s.  Kobe was a baseball prodigy, playing against some of his Dad’s Italian teammates as he grew up. 

Bryan entered the NBA in 1996, straight out of High School.  Over the next 20 years, the Los Angeles Lakers star climbed to Number 3 on the NBA’s all time scoring list.  In the pantheon of NBA guards, the early genre included Jerry West and Oscar Robertson.  Then Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan ruled the backcourt.  They were then succeeded by Lebron James and Kobe Bryant.  Bryan’s favorite nickname was “The Black Mamba”. 

Bryant played 20 years with the Lakers

In the latter part of his career Bryant enjoyed the respect of love of fans for the way that he carried himself on and off the court.  He reportedly had been making wise business decisions since his retirement in 2016.


Kobe and eight others were flying aboard a Sikorsky S-76B.  The corporate helicopter had regularly flown Kobe from his Orange County home to Lakers games in downtown Los Angeles.  Mike Tirico of NBC reported that Kobe wanted to avoid traffic and his teammates called the helicopter, “Kobe One” in deference to Marine 1, which flies the President. 


In any aircraft emergency, the pilots strives to do three things

Sikorsky S-76B  

1. Maintain aircraft control

2. Analyze the situation and take appropriate action

3. Land as soon as conditions permit.

As to number 3 the airplane is hampered in that it must find a runway or a flat piece of ground on which to land.  However, if engine power is lost, the pilot lowers the nose and the plane has the ability to glide. 

Whereas the helicopter has the luxury of being able to land in any small space.  However, when engine power is lost, its ability to glide is minimal.

Possible Causes

Here’s what I call the Big Four

1. Fire and I don’t think that was the case here.  You have two sources of ignition, electric and fuel, plus you have the oxygen to burn.  Fires on the ground are bad, they are worse in the air, you can’t run.  You have to get them out.

2. Weather and two kinds are important.  Winds and visibility.  I have not heard reports of winds in this case, however, the video I saw did indicate limited visibility. 

3. Mechanical.  Something breaks or begins working improperly.  In this case, if a rotor snaps off or the engine stops functioning, you have big problems and a potentially uncontrollable situation.

4. Pilot Error.  Pilots are humans, they sometimes makes mistake.  The key is to have the judgment to recognize the mistake and correct as soon as possible.  Usually one of the other three combine to cause pilot error.

My Best Guess Here

Usually it is a combination of factors.  In my book, CFIT, I mention the Swiss Cheese model.  Just like holes in Swiss cheese when odd factors line up, an accident occurs.  I want to emphasize that this is speculation based on what we know thus far.  I suspect a stall and/or disorientation due to low visibility and confusion with the instruments.  What led to the stall could have been any of the four factors I mentioned or others.  I want to express that I saw no evidence of fire in the video.

What’s next and when will we know more?

Whenever there is a crash, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) sends in a team to investigate.  I have heard very few complaints about NTSB teams in the past.  But give the high profile nature of this crash, I imagine they will be sending in one of their top teams.  We should get an initial report in 7-10 days (maybe longer), but the final report will likely take about a year.

What is our takeaway from this tragic incident?

Roberto Clemente

We have lost celebrities in airplane accidents, names such as Patsy Cline, Rocky Marciano, Roberto Clemente, Roy Halladay and Thurmon Munson.  But rarely in a helicopter.  In a manner of minutes Kobe went from all is calm to tragedy.  The Book of James tells us that our life is just a vapor that can quickly fade away.  Kobe’s tragic accident reminds us of our own mortality and that we must be ready at any moment to meet our Maker. 

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