The tragic crash of the Sikorsky S-76 helicopter carrying basketball great Kobe Bryant, his thirteen year old daughter and seven other fathers, mothers and daughters, brought out immediate speculation in the press as to what caused the crash,as do most aircraft crashes. Such speculation intensifies where the tragedy involves a famous person, and is compelling when the loss touches the national consciousness. When we hurt for the families of the victims—and for ourselves—it is natural to want to know what and how it happened.
The same day of the Kobe Bryant Sikorsky S-76 crash, the media speculated that weather was a causal factor, based upon two primary factors—the weather in the Los Angeles area was problematic early that day and the LAPD had grounded its helicopter fleet the morning of the crash. Weather could have been a factor, causing the pilot to encounter spatial disorientation and/or reduce his altitude which then presents the possibility of encountering ground-based obstacles—wires, towers, etc.
But aircraft crashes do not lend themselves to simple explanations, and helicopter crashes are the most complex of all. This in only because of the complexity of the machine itself, but also because of its operating environment and the fact that most helicopters do not have the “black boxes” that airlines have (Digital Flight Data Recorder and Cockpit Voice Recorder) that help the investigators figure out what happened.
As stated on the website, Helicopter Lawyers, there are three general causes of helicopter crashes: operational error, mechanical malfunction, and/or electrical or other system malfunction.. Often, it is not just one, but several of the causes and sub-causes that combine to produce tragic results.
Operational error includes weather, pilot disorientation, and loss of control. Mechanical malfunction includes instrument, flight control, engine, component, and hydraulic system failures.
But to really understand what caused a crash and to prevent future crashes, it is not enough just to know what caused the crash—the cause of the cause must be determined. For example, it’s not sufficient to find that a component failed and caused a crash; we must figure out what caused that specific component to fail, because that same component is in every other aircraft of that type.
(NOTE: A video has surfaced which is apparently a fraud which claims to show the last moments of the actual crash. The helicopter in the video appears to be a controlled descent which suddenly becomes a violent, spinning descent, totally out of control. But it apparently shows a crash in Dubai in 2018.
It is too early to rule out any cause of this Sikorsky S-76 crash. We don’t yet know all we need to know to determine the cause of this horrible accident. Patience and thoroughness are needed so these families can have answers and so we can prevent future tragedies.
James T. Crouse has been a pilot for thirty-two years, during which time he has performed as a U.S. Army aircraft maintenance officer, maintenance test pilot, and research and development test pilot. Mr. Crouse has litigation experience involving major air carriers, general aviation, helicopter, and military crashes, as well as non-aviation mass disaster litigation.