NTSB Reports Kobe Bryant's Helicopter Missing Key Warning System

Kobe Bryant and eight other people, including his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, were killed in a helicopter crash near Calabasas, California on Sunday, Jan. 26 after the Sikorsky S-76B helicopter hit a ravine and fell to the ground.

On Tuesday, a National Transportation Safety Board board member said that the helicopter was not equipped with a safety system that had been previously recommended by the NTSB, and was not adopted by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Jennifer Homendy told reporters that the NTSB had recommended a terrain and awareness and warning system, or TAWS, which better informs pilots when they are flying in dangerous or difficult conditions and warns them when they are too close to terrain.

"Certainly, TAWS could have helped," Homendy said in reference to Sunday's crash, via NBC News, though she noted that it could not be concluded whether its use could have prevented the crash. The NTSB's request was made after multiple crashes including a 2004 crash in Texas that killed 10 people, and while the FAA did institute the requirement for air ambulances and other medical helicopters, it did not extend the rule for all such helicopters.

In September 2014, the record was closed and the NTSB stated that "unfortunately, the final rule does not require operators to install TAWS on all existing and new US-registered turbine-powered rotorcraft certificated for six or more passenger seats, as recommended," adding that the decision was an "unacceptable action."

In addition, the NTSB recommended that the aircrafts have cockpit voice and flight data recorders on board, a recommendation that was also not adopted by the FAA.

"One of those recommendations on the helicopter having a CVR and an FDR that would have helped us significantly in this investigation and other investigations and it’s something we have recommended several times in a number of years," Homendy said, via BuzzFeed News.

On Sunday, Bryant's helicopter's pilot, Ara Zobayan, had received special permission to fly at less than the basic visual flight rules of a 1,000-foot ceiling and 3 miles of visibility. There was very thick fog in the area and weather is one of the biggest factors in the investigation of the crash. Zobayan was an experienced pilot, having flown more than 1,250 hours on the S-76B and over 8,200 hours in general, and flew nearly the same route on Saturday in clear conditions.

"Is there any way to fly this helicopter in thick fog? There's a lot of variabilities there," Homendy said. "We're focused on what weather conditions were on Sunday for this flight."


The other victims of the crash included Gianna's basketball teammates Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester, Altobelli's parents John and Keri Altobelli, Chester's mom Sarah Chester, girls' basketball coach Christina Mauser and Zobayan. The helicopter was traveling to the Mamba Sports Academy, which is located in Newbury Park, California.

Photo Credit: Getty / Andrew D. Bernstein