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The Kobe Crash

The Kobe Crash

By now, anyone who follows sports, and even many who don’t, have heard of the death of basketball great Kobe Bryant who played with the LA Lakers for 20 years before he retired four years ago. He died Sunday in a helicopter crash that also claimed the life of his 13-year-old daughter and seven other people, including the pilot. There’s an unspoken rule among professional pilots that we don’t question whether or not the pilot of a fatal aviation crash did anything wrong to bring about such a tragedy. We’re all human, and we know that we can all screw up given the right set of circumstances. What drives us the most nuts is the way most news reporters get their stories wrong when writing about such crashes, and the way the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) often lists “Pilot Error” as the reason for a crash when in actuality, there are some crashes that remain a mystery. Rather than list “Cause of crash unknown,” too often, or so it seems, the fed investigators blame the pilot. On Youtube today, you can find an interview with a helicopter pilot who flew Bryant around LA between 2015 and 2017. You can go to Youtube and type in “Kobe Bryant’s former helicopter pilot Kurt Deetz.” The interview was conducted by a reporter working for ET (Entertainment Tonight). The reporter asks him to speculate about what happened, but he declines to do so, saying that’s the job of the NTSB. One thing he does say that is beyond dispute: “Every pilot has his own comfort level.” That’s very true. For example, some pilots are comfortable flying through a severe squall line, while others either divert around it or wait until it’s passed. Associated Press published a story about the crash, and parts of it want to make a professional pilot sigh in frustration. The pilot flying the Sikorsky S-76B carrying Bryant had more than 8,000 hours flight time and was not only a certified flight instructor, but was a CFII, which means he was licensed to teach people how to fly on instruments, which means the pilot can’t see anything outside the cockpit glass. Yet, AP mentions that the Sikorsky pilot may have suffered spatial orientation, as was the case in the 1999 JFK Jr. crash, who was a novice private pilot and who didn’t have an instrument rating. The crash that claimed the life of Kobe Bryant,

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