Kobe Bryant Crash: Absolutely Nothing New To Learn


As I was sitting through the NTSB probable cause hearing on the Kobe Bryant crash last Tuesday—all four hours of it—I felt like I was watching “A Few Good Men” for the 39th time. It’s on every other night on my cable system. I know what’s going to happen, but I still like watching Jack Nicholson throw shade at Tom Cruise not being able to handle the truth.

I could say the same thing about how we in the aviation business think about accidents like the tragedy that killed Bryant, his daughter and their companions on Jan. 26, 2020, on a foggy hillside in Calabasas, California. When I edited the news video, I played it as straight news and you can see that here. But during the hearing, I was wondering where the board was going to go with this while analogies for futile gestures came to mind having to do with rearranging the furniture on a doomed ocean liner. Which is to say you can slice it, dice it, rearrange it and examine it under a microscope and there is nothing new to learn from this accident that we haven’t learned a hundred—several hundred—times before.

Pilot suffers spatial disorientation, loses control and everyone dies. These facts are not in dispute, as Kevin Bacon’s Captain Jack Ross said. But the board couldn’t resist a foray into the miasma of trying to explain why he intentionally ventured into such hazardous straits, theorizing that that self-imposed pressure played a role. Continuing my cheesy courtroom analogies, facts not in evidence. But never mind, they spent a fair portion of an hour debating the wording and where to place the comma in a sentence that was veering dangerously close to saying “probably likely.”

Saying the pilot was under self-induced pressure is, at best, evidential lemon meringue. It suggests there’s a reason when none is evident or that there’s a psychological underpinning for the unexplainable. We will never know what reasoning—or lack thereof—the pilot employed to jam himself into a corner he couldn’t exit. The NTSB was right to investigate the accident as it did and to present its findings as it did, it’s just that the findings are the same deary repetition of the same ill-advised judgement we see a dozen times a year.  

Had Kobe Bryant not been a celebrity, this accident wouldn’t have merited a probable cause hearing and might or might not have resulted in an NTSB recommendation. Yes, the agency responded to the expectation that the public seeks action after somebody famous dies in an aircraft accident. That’s as it should be because even though it’s fashionable to deride Bryant as just another coddled, overpaid athlete, his achievements on and off the court touched many people in the city of Los Angeles and throughout the world. If a high-profile accident merits high-profile attention, the potential benefit to aviation may be worth the glare.

Except this time, we already knew all this. We knew that pilots blunder into weather they can’t handle, we knew pilots are predisposed to finish what they start—“plan continuation bias” in the dry taxonomy of psychological labeling—and we know to the extent of nausea-inducing repetition how the inner ear works. Perhaps in place of self-imposed pressure, the NTSB should invent a new contributing cause:

This could be you.

That’s right. Even if you’re a skilled pilot, one who stays current on stick and rudder, collective and cyclic, knows procedures cold and your judgment is always sound, deep down in places we don’t talk about at parties, we know our reptilian brains are capable of doing the inexplicable with results that are unexplainable.

The misinformation loop that so characterizes contemporary life had it that Bryant had fired other pilots who wouldn’t fly trips when he wanted to go. Facts not in evidence. Or that the company had a reputation for ignoring regulations and operational guidelines. Facts not in evidence. These wisps are there for the grasping. But they are just rationalizations to avoid accepting the fact that pilots make mistakes or do ignorant stuff and no amount of experience, training, regulation, 299 click-greedy YouTube channels devoted to aviation accidents will change the fact that the aviation community has had the means to avoid accidents like this for many years.

The NTSB recommended exploring better ways to train recovering from inadvertent IMC encounters and suggests an evaluation of technologies that might do it best. It also wants flight data and cockpit voice recorders, both to enhance accident investigation and to feed data to routine review of routine operations. The idea is to detect outliers—both in pilots and procedures—before they became accidents.

Listen to this blog here.

I have no opinion on the efficacy of such things. Gadgets have reduced accidents in the past, GPWS and TCAS come to mind, so I wouldn’t dismiss them out of hand. But the larger issue remains homo the sap in the loop just making bad judgements. That may argue for more scenario/awareness-based reminders like this one done by the U.S. Helicopter Safety Team, or this series by Helicopter Association International. Perhaps pilots don’t need full-blown, half-day safety sitdowns so much as they need succinct reminders about accident trends that are killing people. Most of us, I think, can figure out the rest.

Looking over comments attempting to rationalize or explain the Bryant crash, I’ve noticed a lot of fine point dissections but I think the thing is just simpler than that. I also think we should stop looking to the NTSB or FAA to figure this stuff out with more rules and more recommendations to save us from ourselves. As individuals, we already know what to do; we just have take personal responsibility and do it with the same determination that got us to become pilots in the first place.

But then you already knew that.

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  1. I felt embarassed for Mr English when the Chairman gave his foolish “I see a disconnect here” speech. Presumably the Chairman wanted his audience to see that he was a plain-speaking tough guy who holds his staff to account. That’s not what I saw.

  2. I usually like Paul’s style, but I found it a bit flip and snarky considering the circumstances. Valid points as usual, however.

  3. As I understand it, the pilot was instrument-rated but the company’s op spec did not permit IFR. None of this would have happened if he did the flight IFR. Why is a company operating a turbine aircraft allowing SVFR scud-running and not requiring IFR in these conditions?

    • Two primary reasons: first, single pilot IFR in a 135 operation requires additional training and examinations, so that many small 135 operations choose to be VFR-only; and second, helicopter IFR must follow the same procedures as fixed wing IFR, which in this case would have meant a completely different and much longer routing than VFR or SVFR.

      However, being instrument rated doesn’t explain why the pilot failed to maintain control. Being rated isn’t the same as being current or proficient, and even current and proficient IR pilots lose control, if they don’t rely on the instruments.

      • Then the question becomes, why didn’t he request a pop-up clearance, or an emergency clearance. Not that that would have necessarily made a difference if he wasn’t instrument current and proficient, and I suspect that he probably was neither. It’s just not a common thing for helicopters to fly in IMC, even when so equipped. So that leads to the question of why he didn’t use the autopilot. My guess is probably a lack of proficiency in its use.

        You can add all the safety equipment you want, but if the pilot doesn’t know how to use it, it’s just dead weight.

        • To me, the question has always been, “Why did he get into a situation where he could lose control?”
          And in many cases, a pilot knows how to use the equipment, but doing so (pulling the CAPS, punching out, etc.) may make them feel as if they have failed.

          • I suspect it’s the same answer as most of them: the pilot had good intentions but weather was worse than the forecast and prior experience would indicate, and the pilot wasn’t prepared for that. And it’s not as simple as saying “always prepare for the worst”, because sometimes the worst that you prepare for isn’t good enough.

            The “solution” is simple: never fly in anything less than CAVU. But that’s as useless as saying “never drive and you’ll never get into a car accident”.

            Also, in my experience, a pilot may have just enough training to use something like an autopilot under normal conditions, but subject them to stressful abnormal situations and now they don’t know how to effectively use the equipment. Or even more, they forget it’s even available.

  4. Nice article, Paul. As you say, no surprises. Consistent with the general trend of such hearings, this one seemed to devolve into a session of second-guessing a pilot’s wrong guess.

  5. I still think the final cause, after the pilot decided to climb through the overcast, was the pilot not first turning on the autopilot (it had a very capable autopilot, from other sources including Paul’s YouTube video).

  6. It is my understanding Bryant had fired several other pilots for not getting him where he needed to be when he wanted to go. If you have ever worked in a small flight community like being an S76 pilot, most people know each other. They know what happened to the last guy that lost his job for saying ‘NO’, and that it wasn’t good. I wouldn’t call that self induced pressure. The pilots need some kind of protection for saying ‘NO’.
    I see a diagram in this article for what to do if entering IIMC… oddly using a S76. This is the first time I’ve seen it. Has anyone been trained as to what brings on vertigo and how to avoid it? It isn’t just IMCC. It also isn’t ‘not trusting your instruments’. That is a result of vertigo. I’m talking about the physical actions of your body and aircraft. I had to figure it out using full motion instrument trainers.
    I remember my training that covered what to do if you went IIMC or got vertigo, go to the instruments and trust them. I don’t remember any required training on what combined actions cause vertigo. There are two movements that need to occur, one of the head and one of the aircraft at the same time without reference to the ground or instruments.
    Has anyone received this type of training for civil flight? I do remember the upset attitude training using foggle glasses and putting your head down while the aircraft was put in an unusual attitude, then being told to look at the instruments and return to normal flight. That didn’t involve opposing plain movement that upsets equilibrium.
    I think if pilots knew what actually brings on vertigo, are forced to experience it, they will avoid it if they ever go IIMC. This is training that is really hard to do in an actual fixed wing or rotor aircraft.
    This is the real reason you shouldn’t turn the aircraft or make unnecessary head movements.
    Level aircraft, only use your eyes to change what instruments you are looking at. Only move aircraft or head once you have established stabilized level flight and are on your instruments for at least ten seconds or more… then climb.

    • I think this understanding is incorrect. All the information I’ve seen, including the primary investigation, indicates that it is misformation. A pilot named Kurt Deetz who worked for Island Express described Bryant as quiet and professional and rather than pressuring pilots to fly, he accepted cancellations gracefully.

      • Thanks, interesting.
        Contrasting claims are common – we’ve seen that in politics in the past couple of years, in Canada and the US.
        There is the possibility of someone who left for other reasons badmouthing the [employer].

        I wouldn’t assume that a small group of S-76 pilots (if it is really that small for a common type) would all be afraid to turn down jobs – I think many would avoid the troubled employer, thus a troubled employer ends up with the dregs.

        (Technically, Bryant was not the employer, probably not specifier of the pilot, just the hirer of the operating company. A customer could change operating companies of course.)

      • Paul, you have been flying for a long time now, do you remember having vertigo training where you were forced into getting vertigo. A little more than 25 years ago I remember wanting to know what it felt like. The only simulator I could find was in Oklahoma at the FAA training facility.

    • A technique that I use for IMC training is instead of having the student (“learner”, i.e. student) put their head down while I maneuver the aircraft, I instead have them close their eyes and maneuver the aircraft as I tell them (turn left 90 degrees and climb 500 feet) THEN recover from that. Almost every time, the aircraft ends up in the beginning of a graveyard spiral and probably close to 50% of the time I have to assist the recovery to prevent over-stressing the aircraft. That’s about as close to the real thing as I have been able to come up with, while still keeping some margin of safety. Of course, this technique will only work in an airplane, so I don’t think there’s an equivalent for a helicopter (other than a full-motion sim).

      • That sounds like a good way to show loss of control, but did it bring on vertigo?
        When people are scud running their heads are on a swivel looking around for a way out. The aircraft is likely also turning in an attempt to avoid the clouds. What happens next usually determines if the pilot will live or die. It looks like the ones that don’t make it try to turn around. The aircraft is turning one axis of the inner ear, while the pilot turns the head to upset the fluid flow in the inner ear. All of this is taught, but pilots need to experience it in a safe environment, that can be easily cleaned.
        The only way I can explain the feeling, if you remember ever drinking so much you got dizzy and got sic… that is the feeling. It becomes almost impossible to fly. Your head feels like it is spinning. I’m guessing that is why the FAA doesn’t use this type of training machine any more. It must have been a mess to clean up. 🤮 I didn’t get sic, but I recognized the very unpleasant feeling.

        • I have them put their head down too while maneuvering. It’s not a strong sense of vertigo, but it comes close to what it would be like in the real thing. At least, close enough to hopefully prove to them that they don’t want to do it for real. There’s still only so much you can safely do in the real thing.

    • You and other commenter bring up a great point. In the usual exercise of head down, foggles on, CFII maneuvers and hands the plane back, I have never experienced vertigo or significant disorientation. That worries me because I don’t know how I would perform if I did experience it. We keep seeing instances of very experienced pilots who for whatever reason got the leans and just couldn’t believe their instruments. I think we need to figure out some exercises that involve very slow maneuvers that the learner doesn’t feel and keep track of, perhaps combined with prescribed sudden head movements.

    • You and other commenter bring up a great point. In the usual exercise of putting my head down, foggles on, CFII maneuvers and hands the plane back, I have never experienced vertigo or significant disorientation. That worries me because I don’t know how I would perform if I did experience it. We keep seeing instances of very experienced pilots who for whatever reason get the leans and just can’t believe their instruments. I think we need to figure out some exercises that involve very slow maneuvers that the learner doesn’t feel and keep track of, perhaps combined with prescribed sudden head movements. I’d like to have a CFII run me through what Gary describes, perhaps with some sudden head movements up and down with eyes closed, to see what that does.

  7. Re Paul’s good rant about pilots not doing what they already know how to do, I note that even VFR pilots should know how to use basic instruments in order to perform guidance for inadvertent flight into IMC.

    In the Bryant case the pilot did, he was qualified on instruments but did was not allowed to use them because the aircraft operator was too cheap to set up to qualify its operation.

    Appears the pilot took Special VFR further than he should, I note that fog and cloud can be quite patchy and vary with terrain. (One data point is that on the Malahat Mountain Highway out of Victoria BC fog changes quickly as you drive it, because of temperature variations and especially breezes.)

    AFAIK the S-76 is well equipped, certainty it is used for IFR flight, including for decades as air ambulance in Canada. (Okanagan/Canadian/Ornge in Ontario and now Helijet in southwest BC.)

    Sounds like the pilot panicked.

    (If I had Bryant’s money I’d want two pilots, which is how the air ambulances are flown. I expect companies flying the S-76 off of skyscrapers in Manhattan use two pilots, companies often do risk analysis whether formally or by good practice as they do with finances.)

    • The lack of two pilots was clearly another factor. I doubt the single pilot could set up the auto pilot and instruments with one hand on the cyclic and the other on the collective.
      I have everything set long before entering IMC. I’m one of those helicopter pilots that doesn’t like to let go of the cyclic or collective even with an auto pilot… my fingers are always touching unless I need to do something else required for flight, like tune a radio, then they are back.
      I still remember my first helicopter autopilot experience in 1993 with a McDonald Douglas test pilot in the MD530 NOTAR hovering. It just didn’t feel right. I’m a systems specialist technician and I know things break.
      I’ve never had that feeling with fixed wing aircraft because the auto pilot isn’t on if I’m too low to recover. And it wouldn’t be on if there was a chance a abrupt control movement would over stress the aircraft.

  8. In the helicopter world, as you go down, you slow down. Had the accident pilot done so, the outcome would have been different.

    Dual qualified, I can attest that I can safely operate a helicopter in conditions I would not attempt in my fixed wing because of the reason noted above.

    Why did he not slow down as the visibility reduced? Don’t know. Possible time constraint?

    Why did he not reverse course and/or land and sort out his options? Don’t know. Time constraint?

    Why did he not climb earlier, declare an emergency? Don’t know. Possibly concerned about the repercussions?

    Why would someone lose control given the aircraft equipment and the instrument training – though minimal – he possessed? Don’t know. However, when really slow, you can climb with the nose pointed down and descend with the nose pointed up. Very disconcerting…

    If pilots – fixed and rotary wing – push weather, they should have an “Inadvertent IFR Procedure” and practice it periodically. (It should really be called “Advertent IFR” because anyone who’s experienced such an occurrence knew for minutes or miles that such an event was possible…)

    Paul’s statement: “As individuals, we already know what to do; we just have take personal responsibility and do it with the same determination that got us to become pilots in the first place.” hits the nail on the head.

    Put another way: if you’re going to dance with the devil in the pale moonlight, you’ve got to have Plan B in your hip pocket if it all goes south…

  9. Has anyone ever had actual vertigo training where you were forced to get vertigo? I’m not talking about upset recovery techniques or taught an explanation of what happens to your inner ear. I’m talking about actual vertigo experience and then recovery techniques.

  10. In all the reporting and discussion of this incident I’ve read, the one piece I haven’t seen addressed is the mental shift a VFR pilot has to make when they commit to fly instruments. I had to dig to find out if the pilot was instrument rated (he was) and whether the helicopter was instrument certified (still don’t know). Neither of those tidbits was in the NTSB preliminary report. I just learned that their 135 certificate was VFR only. That’s a problem.

    So why is this so important? The moment the pilot lost visual reference he was in violation of the FARs. Just not allowed to do it. He apparently told the controller he was climbing (good idea) but didn’t immediately request an IFR clearance (bad idea). It shows he still wasn’t committed to flying on instruments. Then he starts a turn, hoping to break out at 2500′? I think he was panicking, seeing his license disappear before his eyes. Add to the panic issue was the fact that he was a hugely experienced helicopter pilot and a true novice instrument pilot with 10 hours of actual. The poor guy was completely out of his element. His world was found looking out the window which he had done for 8000 hours. Not looking at the gauges. He may have not even looked at the ADI in the last moments of flight. We’ll never know.

    I used to do single-engine fixed-wing on-demand charters back in the 80s, flying from a suburban airport to Philly International in Skyhawks and Archers, a staple of our business. I always carried a binder of plates since I knew that some night, I was going to end up in the soup regardless of my best intentions, something that wasn’t legal under 135 at the time. And sure enough, one night, at 1400′ msl just north of the airport I lost contact with the ground. I was already talking to the TRACON controller and immediately keyed the mike, asking for an IFR clearance to my destination. He asked me if I could see the Roxborough antennas 4 miles ahead, I said no. “Roger. Cleared to your destination, climb and maintain 2,000′” Disaster averted. Was I in violation of part 135? Technically, but I had operated with the best of intentions and I had a forecast that said this wasn’t going to happen so, if I ended up at a hearing, I knew I could defend myself. It was the smartest thing to do, and the safest. And now I could relax. But I flew a LOT of IFR then, and since.

    So this poor helicopter pilot had two huge strikes: first, he wasn’t likely even remotely current or comfortable on instruments. Second, he knew he was in violation and didn’t have the mindset to deal with it. The desperate need to return to VFR might have killed him.

    • The S-76B is fully instrument equipped, including a very capable autopilot. The company’s Part 135 certificate did not authorize instrument operations and that is not uncommon. It’s a market decision. The IFR cert costs more to get and maintain and operators likely see insufficient demand to justify the investment.

      I caution against reading too much into this scenario. A slice of Occam’s razor is useful. A number of HEMS accidents have ended this way, with an inadvertent IMC encounter followed by a sharp descending turn that was likely less escape maneuver and more simple loss of control.

  11. Not long after I completed my PPL, I did 10 hours of upset and basic aerobatic training with a Australian Airforce pilot who had served in Korea. When teaching aerobatics he often admonished me with “It’s much easier when no one is shooting at you”. Sobering.

    One of the many great bits of advice I received from him was “When it all goes wrong, better to be on the ground discussing the violation with CASA (the Australian Civil Aviation Authority) that at the Gates of Heaven discussing with StPeter about whether to let you in…”

    He also told me that when in trouble, consider these three things, in this order. “Is it safe, is it sensible and is it legal”.

    All still good advice…

    As usual Paul, spot on…

  12. Paul,
    You said what needed to be said…which needs to be repeated periodically.

    “Had Kobe Bryant not been a celebrity, this accident wouldn’t have merited a probable cause hearing and might or might not have resulted in an NTSB recommendation. Yes, the agency responded to the expectation that the public seeks action after somebody famous dies in an aircraft accident. As individuals, we already know what to do; we just have take personal responsibility and do it with the same determination that got us to become pilots in the first place. This could be you. ”

    Why do we believe what we believe? And then do what we do? Until we get a better understanding of what drives human behavior, rules and regs are promulgated to handle the least common denominator.

    Modern advances in avionics have offered far more situational awareness availability than any previous time in aviation history. And very affordable as well. While I loath any more government encroachment in any part of my life, including flying, I can see the value of cockpit cameras and CVR’s installed in for hire SVFR/VFR helicopter operations. As Paul has noted, “The idea is to detect outliers—both in pilots and procedures—before they became accidents.” That is the core of most societal laws, and particularly, the FAR’s. Our American system of laws and regulations has evolved to weed out the outliers, before they harm themselves and others.

    Why does a high time helicopter pilot, CFII, with extensive experience in the area where the fatal crash occurred, regularly flying in both VFR and SVFR environments, including dealing daily with ATC… being very familiar with ATC expectations and workload, carrying a high profile celebrity, fly at 140kts scud-running, and chose a zoom climb to get on top, as his way out of a deteriorating situation?

    Until we get a better understanding of behavioral influences that drive decision-making, the only thing the NTSB/FAA has at its investigative disposal is the wreckage and whatever pieces remain that can determine what actually happened, regardless of behavioral motivation that drives someone into an impossible, irretrievable, wreck. Therefore, add some more avionic gizmos to help explain what happened easier and faster with enforcement rules for non-compliance. However, no added gizmos can explain the motivation and resulting behavior that is at the center of this accident…any many others.

    I feel very few people take on additional risks at the spur of the moment. I believe, these kind of pilot behavioral responses starting from accepting the flight, with each decision in the accident chain, and ultimately crashing, had a relatively established pattern of behavior resulting in completion of previous actions that did not lead to spatial disorientation. In other words, perhaps he had gotten away with previous zoom climbs through the crud. I think he had this experience, accumulated over time, that always worked before. He was comfortable with his deteriorating surroundings enough to not take much, if any, precautions ( including simply slowing down from a 140kts cruise) or felt he was in eminent danger that this flight would end tragically. Paul jumps out of airplanes. He does not do this out of irrational, spur of the moment fear. He is familiar with the sensations, due to practice. And with that practice, he does not have a fear of jumping. He likes that experience which he developed over time and considerable practice.

    Most flying comes from familiarity gained from flying experiences over time. Occasionally, we can be experience a frightening anomaly or surprise. If its an underwear soiler, our experience does not want us to repeat it. However, if small deviations from proven standard practices continue over time, we get accustomed to “normalization of deviations”.

    Naturally, this is armchair quarterbacking because I have no ability to see into the mind of the deceased pilot no more than the NTSB/FAA, Paul, or any other commentator. But I believe there is a potential trail of evidence, if the NTSB/FAA wanted to look at behavioral patterns including physiology motivators/contributors.

    Over all physical health, has a strong influence of decision-making and resulting behavior. One’s blood sugar levels at any particular time, can cause one to be aggressive, passive or despondent for example. While toxicology reports look for any aberrations compared to an overall minimum standard for a I, II, or third class medical, those toxicology reports are not looking at his blood sugar levels after an accident. However, whatever physical health or lack of it he was in at the time of the flight plays a key role in decision-making. Likewise for any one of us at any given time.

    So, as Paul said, this could be any one of us.

  13. At some point, the marketplace will prevail (as it always does) when government fails. Piston helicopters rarely flew IFR–they didn’t have the equipment and performance to do so. The advent of turbine helicopters made it possible–and properly qualified military aviators did so–but almost always with another pilot as most Huey’s didn’t have a full-functioning autopilot. The use of helicopters offshore (as much as 100 miles or more–sometimes at night) provided transportation utilizing qualified crews and equipment. HOWEVER–the charter industry never kept up. The idea of a high time helicopter pilot flying single-pilot IFR is ludicrous–as mentioned, he had only 10 hours of IFR in all that experience. It would be like a new Private Pilot flying a well-equipped twin turboprop–the AIRCRAFT is capable, but obviously, not the pilot.

    I’m certainly not a proponent of FAA mandates, but it comes down to THIS–if the FAA doesn’t take action, the insurance company WILL. No insurance company I know of would cover a pilot with this low experience–in a multi-million dollar well-equipped aircraft–with the exposure of up to 14 seats (max capacity of the S-76)–without instrument rating AND capability.

    Much has been made in other threads about the difficulty in obtaining insurance coverage for low experience pilots flying high-performance aircraft–and this very loss is one that the insurance companies explicitly reference.

    As mentioned–the marketplace will prevail, when government fails.

    • “It would be like a new Private Pilot flying a well-equipped twin turboprop”

      We all have to keep in mind that other than sharing the same attitude and navigation instruments, most of the ATC procedures (but not all; some are different for helicopters), and the atmosphere, helicopter flying is quite a different world than fixed-wing flying. Besides being much more expensive (at least 3x compared to fixed-wing), the demands it places on the pilot is different. Helicopters also have an out that fixed-wing aircraft don’t: they can land virtually anywhere that is only about 20% bigger than the helicopter itself (I made that number up; the point is, it’s a smaller footprint than a fixed-wing would need).

      Also, fixed-wing aircraft have been around since at least 1903. Helicopters have only been around since 1939, so the fixed-wing world has had 36 years of further development. In some ways, we’re still figuring out how to safely use helicopters and what they can and can’t do.

  14. From 32 years ago, here is an NTSB safety report on similar issues in an EMS context – “http://libraryonline.erau.edu/online-full-text/ntsb/safety-studies/SS88-01.pdf” – it discusses why the VFR/IFR decision for commercial helicopter operations is not as simple as it might seem, as well as such things as the impact of regulations with unintended consequences.

    How difficult/impractical is it (cost, time) for a commercially employed helicopter pilot to obtain the recurrent training necessary to remain actual-IMC and IIMC recovery proficient, if their employer does not (is not required to) provide it, and they don’t routinely fly in the clouds?

  15. Best line so far from anyone in 2021: ” . . . our reptilian brains are capable of doing the inexplicable with results that are unexplainable.”

  16. The FAA, NTSB and the aviation industry as a whole owe their continued existence as well as their
    enviable safety record to the deaths of Knute Rockne (1930), Wiley Post and Will Rogers (1935),
    and all of the people who perished on the Hindenburg (1937). Those tragic occurrences and the
    publicity they occasioned made close scrutiny of aircraft accidents both possible and necessary.
    Not to do it in Kobe Bryant’s case would be an insult to the history and evolution of flight itself.
    Moreover, even if Bryant did not in any way influence, either the choice of pilots or the choices
    that his pilot made while aloft, it would be a wise precaution for the future to avoid any conflict
    of interest between pilot and passenger(s), as I pointed out in an earlier post. For the same
    reason, strict observance of risk protocols, coupled with installing state-of-the-art instruments
    on all aircraft, while seeing to it that all pilots are trained and experienced in their regular use,
    is both prudent and long overdue, and should be mandatory. Reptilian brains notwithstanding,
    there is no excuse for not taking such obvious measures, nor for delaying universal compliance.
    Any other course of action is irrational and unforgivable, rather than mysterious and inexplicable.

  17. Many operators have a no-fault go-around policy. A large operator (airline) may cancel a flight and the pilot suffers no financial or “reputation” penalty.

    Should air-taxi operators have a financial contract saying, “your job is to deliver safety, if that means cancelling you will be paid equal or more of the profit you would have made if you completed the trip.” This profit-payment-contract would be a fraction of the entire trip and counter the professional desire to complete the trip (as opposed to the better concept of complete the trip with no reasonable doubt of safety). Of course, this would apply to the pilot – no financial penalty for cancelling.

  18. Studying all crashes benefit aviation safety. As you say, since this involves a celebrity we are forced to study it but it’s still worthwhile. We all take chances when flying. Nothing’s guaranteed in aviation or life in general. Reading about crashes due to poor choices hopefully instills better judgment in the rest of us. Will we still take stupid chances? Yes, and many will work out just fine. But I think one reason why aviation continues to become safer is due to pilots learning from other pilots’ poor decisions. As always, your articles are thought provoking and well written, Paul.

  19. “How difficult/impractical is it (cost, time) for a commercially employed helicopter pilot to obtain the recurrent training necessary to remain actual-IMC and IIMC recovery proficient, if their employer does not (is not required to) provide it, and they don’t routinely fly in the clouds?”

    You could say the same thing for fixed wing–yet the FAA mandated it and accidents went down. From an economics standpoint, WHAT IS THE SENSE OF HAVING A MULTI-MILLION DOLLAR HELICOPTER IF IT CAN’T PROVIDE SAFE AND RELIABLE TRANSPORTATION?

    It’s NOT like helicopter IFR is a new thing, or that there are no instrument-rated helicopter pilots. They’ve been flying offshore in the Gulf–IFR and night for over 40 years. Aeromedical helicopters usually have the IFR option. Most corporate helicopters are equipped and trained for IFR ops.

    It would be GOOD for commercial operators to get better utilization (and marketing) out of their aircraft–I can’t think of any turbine aircraft fixed wing charter operators that DON’T have a requirement for instrument-rated pilots. If the OPERATOR won’t do it, you’re going to have the INSURANCE COMPANIES mandate it. This crash is one of the “high-profile losses” used as an example by the insurance companies for increased rates and mandated training. I own and fly jetprops and helicopters. There is no reason NOT to require instrument capability on a turbine twin-engine helicopter. Let the piston helicopter guys fly VFR–but if helicopter charter is ever to develop as a safe and reliable means of transportation, there is no excuse for limiting it to VFR.

  20. My father (also a pilot) used to have to arrange air transport (fixed and rotary) for some very VIPs as part of his job. He had one rule: two engines, two pilots. If that couldn’t be arranged they didn’t fly. Period.

    • Things work best when those two engines – and those two pilots – work together. Not so well when one of either fails.

  21. Is there any reason that a Helo pilot can’t pull into a hover to avoid IFR while waiting for a clearance to approach and land ?