Kobe Bryant: Questions emerge about why Kobe Bryant’s helicopter was flying in ‘very scary conditions’

Kobe Bryant: Questions emerge about why Kobe Bryant's helicopter was flying in 'very scary conditions'

The final minutes of interaction between the pilot of the helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant and air traffic controllers did not indicate any cause for alarm – until the communication suddenly ceased.

That was a bad sign that within seconds turned into the worst possible outcome.

The NBA legend, his 13-year-old daughter and seven other people were killed in a Sunday morning crash outside Los Angeles that has left many questions, chief among them: Why were they flying in foggy conditions that prompted the police department to ground its helicopters?

That query quickly came to mind for Robert Ditchey, a longtime airplane pilot, aeronautical engineer and former airline executive who lives in Los Angeles. A team of investigators is looking into the reasons for the tragedy, but Ditchey said he suspected right away that weather was a factor, and the notion was reinforced when he found out the aircraft in question was a helicopter.

“This was totally avoidable, and on the part of some people I can go as far as to say irresponsible,’’ Ditchey said. “Here’s one of the most important people in the world who comes to a tragic end like this and you say, ‘Why? What the hell happened?’’’

An audio of the last four minutes of exchanges between pilot Ara Zobayan and air traffic controllers, which was captured by LiveATC.net and combined with flight data into a video on the YouTube channel VASAviation, provides only sparse clues.

Kobe Bryant: Audio revealed between pilot and air traffic controllers
Audio captured by LiveATC.net reveals the final exchanges between air traffic controllers and the pilot flying the Kobe Bryant helicopter that crashed.

Zobayan requested and was granted permission to fly the Sikorsky S-76B helicopter under special visual flight rules, which he was licensed to do. He was an experienced pilot who had logged 8,200 flight hours by July.

As he transitioned from the air traffic controller in Burbank to the one in Van Nuys, Zobayan maintained his special VFR privileges while flying at 1,400 feet of elevation and staying close to freeways.

But when the Southern California controller took over communication and asked the pilot to identify himself, he heard nothing back.

Air traffic controller: “72EX, you’re following a 1200 code. So you’re requesting flight following?’’

Pilot: No response.

Air traffic controller: “72EX, where, say intentions.’’

Pilot: No response.

Air traffic controller: “72EX you’re still too low level for flight following at this time.’’

Pilot: No response.

In heavy fog and with no radio connection to the controller, likely blocked by the mountains in low altitude, the helicopter crashed into a hillside in Calabasas, near Malibu.