The light haze that had settled on the runway of John Wayne Airport when Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and six other passengers boarded a helicopter Sunday morning likely would not have posed much of a concern to a helicopter pilot with nearly 20 years of flying experience.
But conditions changed about a half-hour later, when the aircraft was flying over thickening clouds in the San Fernando Valley that reduced visibility predicted earlier in the day. Visibility had diminished so much that the Los Angeles Police Department had grounded its own fleet of helicopters that morning.
The helicopter ferrying Kobe and his guests — a Sikorsky S-76 chopper built in 1991 — circled for roughly 13 minutes over Glendale awaiting clearance from air traffic controllers to continue its trip under special visual flight rules that would grant clearance to fly in weather conditions with less than the minimum visibility for regular visual flying.
Experts say that at that point, the pilot had a decision to make. He could turn back, begin flying using the helicopter’s instruments and find a nearby airport to safely land, or press on. The pilot, identified by colleagues as Ara Zobayan, continued the flight toward Camarillo Airport. Minutes later, the helicopter crashed into a hillside in Calabasas, killing all nine people on board.
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