The pilot of Kobe Bryant’s helicopter was reportedly flying too low for “flight following” before crashing into the side of a mountain in California.
The chopper was flying too low to be picked up by radar and given direction by air traffic control under visual flight rules (VFR), according to a report published by Page Six. Audio between pilot Ara Zobayan and air traffic control revealed the helicopter was in need of guidance on its way back to Burbank airport.
Retired NBA star Kobe Bryant, a basketball prodigy who went on to win five championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, died in a helicopter crash in California https://t.co/9lxGzVSHLs pic.twitter.com/7oIjDfzST4
— Reuters (@Reuters) January 26, 2020
“Helicopter 7-2 Echo X-ray, you’re still too low for flight following at this time,” the controller told Zobayan, who had been holding the helicopter at 1,400 feet.
“Advise when you are in VFR conditions,” the controller added.
Zobayan then requested for flight following again at 1,500 feet. Flight following is a service that is provided to pilots by air traffic control to improve the pilot’s situational awareness and avoid crashes with other aircrafts. (RELATED: NBA Legend Kobe Bryant, 41, Killed In Helicopter Crash)
The controller warned Zobayan again that he was too low for flight following. Moments later, the helicopter climbed to 2,000 feet, descended at 4,000 feet per minute and crashed into the mountainside at 1,400 feet, according to data from FlightRadar24. The helicopter was reportedly flying at 185mph at the time of the crash.
“All the signs point to a CFIT [controlled flight into terrain] which is when an aircraft under the complete control of a pilot is inadvertently flown into the land, sea, or a building,” a source told Page Six. “These accidents happen when the pilot loses situational awareness. The crash site also points to this, given how the debris is scattered, it looks like they went nose-first into the mountain.”
“Kobe’s helicopter is 29 years old, and most Sikorsky S-76s fly with two pilots,” the source added. “On Sunday, Kobe had just one pilot, who was likely flying on visual flight rules, rather than using instruments to monitor altitude.”