Hey Guys and Gals,
I want to share some info with you guys about what happened with regards to the heli crash that killed Kobe and others. Just for a little background, I am employed by a very large aero-medical provider here in California as a Medivac Pilot in the Central Valley. I fly medical helicopters with a crew consisting of a nurse, flight medic, etc. I am a SPIFR ( single pilot instrument flight rules ) pilot and have flown about 8k hours total time in helos, and around 3000 in the medical field with about 1500 of that 3k being in Cali, so I feel I know the wx patterns pretty good. .
On the morning in question I rolled into work at around 0530 to start my 12 hour duty day shift. First thing I do when I come in is log into our systems and obtain and/or sign the necessary paperwork for me to be legal to fly that day. The next thing I do is check weather. I do this right away because I don’t want to be caught off guard if an early flight comes my way. After that I do a preflight on the helo. By this time my crew and I have had our coffee and are ready to sit for our morning briefing. During my brief I will start off with weather for the day since this is the most important thing for them to hear.
After briefing weather for the local area, next up was weather for the flights to LA and SF. When looking at LA area wx for the day I noted to my crew that we would only be flying IFR to anywhere around that area since weather was foggy and getting over the grapevine and transitioning down into the Las Angeles area would take us through low cloud layers. I also noted to the crew that the low ceilings were probably going to be around that area most of the day so it’s an IFR or no go situation. This meant that while it was possible to transition to get a Special VFR clearance to transition to a hospital heli pad after we made our approach to the airport and broke out of the clouds, it probably wouldn't be something I would do since the cloud layer was below the mountain tops and below by personal minimums for something like this. Given this fact, the crew understood that if we were to take a IFR flight from the valley into LA area, I would most likely be stopping at Burbank or Van Nuys airport and they would have to ground the patient the rest of the way in an ambulance. This sucks for them because I know how much longer these calls can take when you have to do ground legs and you can’t just fly pad to pad between hospitals. However this is common practice this time of year in California for us since fog and low ceilings usually get the best of us and we have to come up with alternatives to make the fight a safe one. The other possibility is we just don’t go at all. I’m ok with this as well as I always tell my crew that MY job is not to care about the patient, it is to make sure myself and my crew are safe and come home to our family's each and every day. The patient is their issue and if I can make the flight happen and keep everyone safe, then OK. But if there is an inkling that things can go wrong, then I’m going to sit my arse at the base and watch a movie. That’s just the way it is.
So given all this information with everything I just said, after reviewing the accident and what happened, and all the flight data as well as the ATC recordings between the pilot and the control towers right before the crash, I have no doubt in my mind that this happened due to inclement weather, as well as the pilots inability to land at the airport and let Kobe and the rest of his passengers get a ground transport to the place they were going. This part really infuriates me to no end. When you listen to the ATC recordings I know exactly what is going on in the pilots head. I know that he doesn't want to look bad in the eyes of his high profile passengers and have to tell them he can’t make it all the way to their destination. They are counting on him to get them there and he’s going to make this flight happen no matter what. He also doesn't want to admit that he should have never accepted the flight in the first place. And I am sure that if he did turn it down there would be another pilot right behind him willing to fly Kobe to his destination and save the day!
I also know that if he did just that and turned the flight down and someone else stepped up and made the flight happen (maybe because they were just lucky, left a few minutes later or earlier, flew a little slower or faster or for some other reason that we will never know) and the flight did arrive at the intended destination safely, this pilot that turned it down would look bad in the eyes of his employer and himself, and that’s just something he is not willing to accept.
I can tell you that I know for a fact, ego, macho attitude and a "it won’t happen to me" way of thinking is what got this pilot in over his head. It was most likely very low visibility at his altitude and before he knew it was inside a cloud layer of dense fog. Once that happened his first instinct would be to climb and get away from the ground. This is a normal and practiced technique, however because he was surrounded by mountains he most likely panicked and tried to climb very fast. At this point he either got disoriented as to which way was up or he pulled way to much pitch, slowed the helo down way to much during the climb, and due to the drag that would have been placed on the rotor system given the amount of pitch he would have had to pull to climb that fast he stalled the rotor system, which then the only way to recover is to enter a autorotation. At this point hitting the side of a mountain was inevitable.
This is probably very heavy stuff for this forum and probably too heavy for most people who do not fly to understand, and I dont want anyone to think that I feel I know more or better than anyone else, I've had my share of shit happening to me as well but somehow was lucky enough to live through them and learn from those moments. But to be candid here, I have seen this accident happen many times over. I lost my own crew to a helicopter accident about five years ago. Same thing. CFIT (controlled flight into terrain) in foggy weather in a VFR only aircraft. Before that I lost two other coworkers to heli accidents in the medical field about ten years prior. I’m sick to my stomach at the moment over these accidents. Maybe I just needed to vent and I appreciate if you have read this far.
By the way, helicopters such as a S76B (which is a proven helicopter and a good IFR platform) just don’t fall out of the sky for mechanical reasons. It’s perfectly capable of flying on one engine sustained flight to get to an airport. We train for emergencies like that all the time. Obviously we all must wait for the NTSB to do their thing along with the FAA and Sikorsky. However this was weather related coupled with the pilot’s inability to land the damn helo and walk away with a bruised ego. It just is! I’ve seen it before and probably will again unfortunately. And one more thing, the greatest thing about a helicopter verses a fixed wing aircraft is its ability to land anywhere at any time. We don’t need runways or roads or any long straight areas that will give us enough room to come to a stop. All we need is just a small open field, parking lot, schoolyard, or any other suitable area. Unfortunately human error will always rear its ugly head given the right conditions.
Thanks for listening to this guy’s rant. I just needed to vent a bit. Now back to our regularly scheduled pinball topics...