NEW YORK, Feb. 8, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released an Aircraft Accident Investigative Update yesterday as part of the investigation into the January 26, 2020, fatal crash of a Sikorsky SK76B helicopter near the city of Calabasas, CA, that took the lives of nine people, including basketball legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna. Following are statements from the helicopter and airplane pilots and aviation attorneys at Kreindler & Kreindler LLP, the nation's largest and oldest law firm devoted to aviation law. The firm has investigated and litigated numerous helicopter crashes, including those involving similar equipment and operating under similar conditions as those of the accident which occurred last month.
"This NTSB Preliminary Report is more detailed than most such reports," said Daniel O. Rose, a U.S. Navy-trained pilot and law partner at the Kreindler firm. "It allows us to see that the pilot eventually decided he needed to climb above clouds. To do that, he almost certainly had to enter the clouds. He then appears to have become spatially disoriented in the clouds, and the helicopter entered a high-speed left descending spiral and crashed into terrain. The NTSB does not indicate whether the pilot, who was instrument rated, was instrument current, which, if true, could be a factor in the accident."
Rose continued, "Notably, the information that the operator of this aircraft was only certified to fly in visual flight conditions (VFC) could certainly explain the pilot's reluctance to ask for an instrument flight rules (IFR) clearance from the ATC. The visual flight restriction could also help explain pilot disorientation. If the pilot did not usually fly in actual instrument conditions and therefore lacked proficiency at flying in clouds since the operator was not permitted to do so, he may have been more prone to disorientation. Based on the Preliminary Report suggestion of spatial disorientation, it seems unlikely that TAWS (Terrain Awareness and Warning System) would have made a difference in this tragic crash."
According to the 200,000-member organization AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association) nearly half of all weather-related accidents happen as a result of continued visual flight rules (VFR) flight into instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) . . . and the vast majority of those accidents are fatal.
According to Army helicopter pilot and Kreindler law partner Brian J. Alexander, "Although the NTSB will follow the required investigation protocols to evaluate all possible causes for this crash, it is safe to say that the NTSB will remain primarily focused on the deteriorating weather conditions in and around Calabasas at the time of the crash and the evidence of possible spatial disorientation as the lethal combination which caused this tragedy. Flying in marginal weather conditions in close proximity to the ground is uniquely challenging for even an experienced pilot, as the visibility can drop to zero in an instant, requiring an immediate decision. Under these circumstances, there is simply no margin for error. The pilot's last transmission to ATC (Air Traffic Control) indicating he was climbing to avoid a cloud layer may suggest the conditions were rapidly deteriorating and the pilot was running out of options."
"The preliminary report indicates that the NTSB to date has found no mechanical cause for the accident, which points the finger at weather and pilot error, which are often determined by process of elimination, particularly where the pilot has died and cannot tell us what happened and where the helicopter is not equipped with cockpit voice and flight data recorders," says Justin T. Green, U.S. Marine Corps-trained helicopter pilot and Kreindler law partner. "The investigators will complete a more in-depth examination of the wreckage, including a tear down of the engines, to determine any mechanical problems, but all indications are that the pilot lost control of the helicopter after encountering extremely poor visibility conditions."
Mr. Green is the past president of the International Air & Transportation Safety Bar Association (IATSBA).
About Kreindler & Kreindler LLP
Kreindler is the largest and oldest law firm in the U.S. devoted to aviation law. The firm has represented families in cases that resulted in personal injury and wrongful death involving aircraft from every major helicopter manufacturer. More information about Kreindler's extensive experience investigating helicopter crashes is accessible here. The firm has offices in New York, Los Angeles and Boston. Kreindler's staff includes four commercially licensed helicopter pilots and one former helicopter maintenance specialist (who is also a graduate of the NTSB Accident Investigation Course).
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