News of Kobe Bryant’s death on January 26, 2020, left people around the world in mourning. The 41-year-old basketball legend was flying in a helicopter from John Wayne Airport to Camarillo Airport. Along with Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter and seven others, including the pilot, were aboard the helicopter. Heavy fog that day diverted the helicopter from its usual route. At around 10 a.m., the helicopter went down in a remote location in Calabasas. All nine people aboard perished in the accident. Now, the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board, and the FBI are carefully investigating the incident.
Whenever an aviation crash occurs, it is closely investigated to uncover the cause of the accident. At times, aviation accidents can stem from pilot error, faulty plane parts, improper maintenance, or weather, among other factors. Fault is an important issue to determine as it could potentially lead to civil litigation, including wrongful death lawsuits, fines and fees, and even criminal liability.
Initial investigations into the Kobe Bryant crash reveal that weather was likely a significant factor. On the morning of the accident, the fog was severe enough in the area that the Los Angeles Police Department’s Air Support Division grounded its helicopters until later in the afternoon. The Sheriff’s Department made a similar decision to keep its helicopters on the ground.
Data from the helicopter shows that it traveled a different route than usual due to the fog. The plane was reported to climb rapidly in elevation right before it rapidly descended and crashed. At this time, investigators believe the weather to be a more likely cause of the crash than engine failure.
Further, investigations have revealed that while the pilot had the legal authority to fly a plane with his instruments in poor weather, the helicopter itself did not have the needed federal certification. The owners of the helicopter, Island Express Helicopters, had an operating certificate that limited pilots to flying the planes under visual flight rules, which require at least a half-mile of daytime visibility. Accordingly, while the plane was equipped with instruments to fly with limited visibility, the company did not have the certification to do so.
It remains early in the investigation process and many questions are unanswered. It is unclear as of now whether the accident will lead to litigation in the form of wrongful death lawsuits. For now, the world will have to continue to watch and mourn the loss of an iconic athlete taken too soon.
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