President Obama’s characterization of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant on Sunday as as “an unthinkable day” speaks to more than the loss of a sports legend, but to the devastating effects on four families. Nine people were on board the Sikorsky S-76; Bryant and his 13-year old daughter Gianna. Thirteen-year-old Alyssa Altobelli and her parents Keri and John Altobelli. Christina Mauser, a basketball coach and the mother of a 10-year old boy who was not on the aircraft and three others including the pilot, who at this writing have not been identified.
Such a loss is indeed unthinkable as the former President said, and more so if the crash is determined to be a matter of flight in unsuitable weather. The helicopter was nearly at its destination, the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, 75-miles northwest of Long Beach. A flight track from Flight Aware shows the aircraft turned left taking it off route where it crashed into terrain.
The National Transportation Safety Board sent a team of 18, which is notably large, to California for the investigation. It will be their examination of the wreckage, maintenance, meteorology and other factors that will determine what contributed to the accident.
Immediately after the crash, however, neither the Los Angeles Sheriff nor the Los Angeles Police launched to the scene by air. According to an interview with the Los Angeles Times, the weather, which featured a heavy morning fog, was not good enough. LA Police spokesman Josh Rubenstein said, “The weather conditions did not meet our minimum standards for flying.”
The twin-engine Sikorsky S-76 is registered to Island Express Helicopters, a charter operator, though the aircraft N72EX wears a livery customized for Kobe Bryant to highlight his Black Mamba nickname. A former pilot for the company also told the LA newspaper that the weather in the area was “not good at all”.
As always after an airplane accident, media attention is focused on the safety of the aircraft. But for investigators, equal if not more attention will be paid to the meteorological and human factors leading to this “unthinkable day.”