Kobe Bryant's Helicopter Pilot May Have Misjudged Mountainous Terrain, Local Pilots Theorize

Some pilots local to the Los Angeles area have started weighing in with their own theories as to what went wrong with the helicopter crash Sunday morning that killed NBA legend Kobe Bryant and eight others, including Bryant's 13-year-old daughter. A number of pilots spoke to TMZ, all of which have extensive experience flying over the same area as the crash. They seem to indicate that a misjudging of nearby mountain terrain may have been what caused things to go wrong.

Basing their assessment on the flight tracker and the accident scene, they believe the pilot, Ara Zobayan, assumed that he had cleared all of the mountains and was proceeding to back to his destination when he hit another mountain. At one point he pilot's elevation dropped dramatically from 2,000 feet to 1,700 feet. While it was likely to go under the fog, which was so thick that the LAPD had grounded its helicopter flights, it seems that the pilot misjudged the landscape of the area entirely.

Another pilot said that he didn't understand why Zobayan, a veteran pilot, maintained speeds of 161 knots given the fog. As he pointed out, helicopters can travel as slowly as 15 mph, which are designed in part for scenarios like the one he was navigating. Others indicated that the pilot would've fared better had he tried to go up to avoid the fog instead of down. At this point, the theories seem to raise more questions than they answer, given that Zobayan was known for being cautious and deliberate when flying.

Zobayan's helicopter had been reportedly flying irregularly prior to the crash. Audio released from LiveATC.net clarified that the helicopter was granted "special clearance to fly at or below 2,500 feet in dangerous weather conditions," which would've been required given the level of fog. The helicopter didn't have a black box, either, and while not required, the National Transportation Safety Board has asked anyone with photos of the weather around the Calabasas area to email them to witness@ntsb.gov to help aid in the investigation.


The LA County Medical Examiner-Coroner also provided an update via Twitter earlier today about the ongoing search for the victims' bodies. Three of the bodies have been found among the helicopter wreckage at this point, but the rest had not been located as of yesterday, though it's currently unclear which of the bodies have been recovered.