SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — As crash investigators sift through the debris field looking for clues, helicopter pilots are watching closely, to try to understand what may have gone wrong in the Kobe Bryant crash.
JetEXE Aviation founder and CEO Augustine Joseph is a helicopter pilot with 33 years of experience. He says it’s clear foggy weather was a huge problem.
“He’s drifting, clouds and fog and all is moving, its changing moment to moment,” Joseph said.
Joseph has listened to air traffic recordings of Bryant’s helicopter pilot. He heard Bryant’s pilot trying to change directions fast.
Tower: “…two echo x-ray understand….just remain this frequency….and again 118 west…”
Pilot: “…Tower can we go ahead and start turning to the southwest toward 101?..”
“The last thing he said was, ‘Can I turn south?'” Joseph said. “He was initially instructed to go northwest I think. It got quite concerning even in his voice, ‘Can I turn around to the south.'”
The tower lost contact with the helicopter minutes later.
Tower: “…two echo x-ray, you’re still to low level for flight following at this time…”
Joseph says while Bryant’s pilot was legally flying according to the FAA’s strict special visual flight rules, he may have also felt pressure to fly in difficult conditions.
“Being a pilot, I know and I’ve flown VIPs and celebrities too, and there is a certain amount of pressure to fly,” Joseph said.
Before reaching the Calabasas area, Bryant’s helicopter circled Burbank for 15 minutes as air traffic controllers directed heavy airplane traffic in the area.
Bryant’s helicopter was a Sikorsky S-76-B. Pictures show it wrapped in Bryant’s Nike Brand Logo. On the inside, Entertainment Tonight obtained pictures showing plush leather seats.
The model is known as having a good safety record. Now a deadly crash, killing an American icon, his daughter and seven others, including his pilot.
“Only after everything is done, can we really know what the problem was,” Joseph said.
The search for what went wrong is only beginning. The NTSB preliminary investigation report may come out in two to three weeks. Its final report will take months.