Sports

Safety Investigators Confirm the 'Kobe Bryant and Gianna Bryant Helicopter Safety Act' Wouldn't Have Prevented the Fatal Crash That Killed Lakers Legend

The National Transportation Safety Board has confirmed that a costly terrain warning system lawmakers wanted to mandate in response to Bryant's death would have been a non-factor in the accident that killed him.

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Federal safety investigators have released a synopsis of their coming final report on the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others on the flight. They found definitively that the safety regulations proposed in the Kobe Bryant and Gianna Bryant Helicopter Safety Act would not have prevented the deadly crash.

That bill, introduced by Rep. Brad Sherman (D–Calif.) less than a week after the basketball star's death in January 2020, would mandate that all helicopters come equipped with Terrain Awareness and Warning System (TAWS), a technology that warns pilots if they are flying too close to the ground or other obstacles they might not be able to see.

Yet at a Tuesday meeting of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which is responsible for investigating transportation accidents and making safety recommendations, investigators said that TAWS would not have prevented the crash that killed Bryant and his fellow passengers.

"It's great technology, we just don't think it applies here," said NTSB investigator Bill English in response to a question about TAWS. English said that the safety technology was most useful in situations where a pilot is in control of his or her vehicle but is unaware of the surrounding terrain.

The crash that killed Bryant in contrast, he said, was a product of the pilot becoming "spatially disorientated" while attempting to fly above cloud cover to avoid hilly terrain he was already aware of. Those cloudy conditions caused the pilot to become confused as to his direction, telling an air traffic controller he was still ascending when in fact he was plummeting to the ground.

"At that point the aircraft is not in control. The pilot doesn't really know which way was up so this type of system [TAWS] would not aid in that situation," said English. "It would likely just be a confusing factor more than anything else."

The irrelevance of TAWS to the crash stands in contrast to the attention the technology received, from both policymakers and the media, immediately following Bryant's death.

The Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, among other outlets, ran articles questioning whether the technology could have prevented the accident.

Jennifer Homendy, a board member of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), said in a press conference two days after the crash that "certainly, TAWS could have helped to provide information to the pilot on what terrain the pilot was flying in."

(The NTSB has recommended all helicopters be equipped with TAWS since 2006. The Federal Aviation Administration has declined to implement that recommendation except for helicopter ambulances.)

Sherman went further by saying that if Bryant's helicopter had the technology, "it is likely the tragic crash could have been avoided."

Despite the media attention and advocacy from Vanessa Bryant, Kobe's widow, Sherman's bill stalled in the face of opposition from the helicopter industry.

Sherman lamented this in comments to the Los Angeles Times a couple of weeks ago, saying that "even the death of Kobe Bryant hasn't gotten us where we need to go." The Times reported Tuesday that he was updating his safety legislation to include NTSB recommendations that pilots undergo more simulation training on how to respond to changing weather conditions.

The fact that Sherman's signature mandate would not have saved the people after whom he named his bill should prompt more reflection. Policymaking in response to a tragedy, when many of the facts have yet to come in, is a recipe for imposing ineffective solutions. Worse still, it circumvents the cost-benefit analyses that regulators and legislators should employ when considering costly mandates.

The Times reports that installing TAWS costs upwards of $35,000 per helicopter. If the government is going to require companies to install such a costly system on their vehicles, it should at a minimum be sure it would produce tangible safety benefits that outweigh the compliance costs for private operators and small firms.

Moreover, it's important to consider whether money spent on one expensive technology couldn't be more effectively directed toward other safety solutions.

In an effort to prevent fatal, headline-grabbing train derailments, for instance, the federal government has required rail companies to spend billions adopting positive train control technology to prevent such accidents. But each dollar spent preventing deaths from derailments is a dollar that isn't spent on preventing much more common deaths from collisions at road-rail intersections or from trespassers on tracks.

The NTSB recommends that Island Express Helicopters, the company that was operating the helicopter flight that killed Bryant, participate in the FAA's Safety Management System Voluntary Program, and install flight data monitoring programs on its helicopters and then review that data to identify potential safety issues.

Mandating that the company adopt TAWS, which wouldn't have prevented the accident in question, would leave it with less time and resources to put toward developing safety measures that might have actually made a difference.

It's a truism that bills named after victims make for bad laws. Bills named after celebrity victims usually aren't any better.

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  1. Another tragic case of helicopter parenting.

    1. I lol’d…too soon?

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    2. Or as one guy I read wrote, “Kobe always did like to force one up, when the smart thing was to pass instead.”

      I love how the NTSB wouldn’t even hint that the client was pressuring the pilot to go through with the flight. Yeah, I know, that shouldn’t matter to the PIC. They still like working though, and piss enough the wrong client, you might find yourself out of a job.

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    3. If only they had driven there in Minivans, like the rest of us.

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  3. “…that isn’t spent on preventing much more common deaths from collisions at road-rail intersections or from trespassers on tracks.”

    So, this supposedly libertarian magazine wants the federal government to prevent something by spending more money.

    Fuuuuuuuuck.

    1. “If it saves one former basketball star’s life…”

      Aside, if you haven’t read that Tablet Magazine article, “The Thirty Tyrants,” that Ra’s linked to today, you really should. https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/news/articles/the-thirty-tyrants

      About 20 pages in Word, cut n pasted with large font text. Still worth your time, especially for the links the author cites to.

      1. The Peloponnesian War is my favorite.
        Like WWI and Crimea, it happened because of a ridiculous series of easily avoidable errors, there was really no point to the conflict and none of the participants had any real goals, and everyone thought it would be a quick little cakewalk.
        Thucydides should be more popular.

        P.S. – the Athenian invasion of Sicily is really one of the most mind boggling missteps in human history.

  4. That bill, introduced by Rep. Brad Sherman (D–Calif.)

    Guarantee you he doesn’t know the names of the 7 other victims.

    1. Or anything about helicopters, flying in general, or “jack shit”. But he does know the people that SELL the $35,000 system that would not have prevented this. They are well acquainted.

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    2. I’m just glad democrats stand up for the little people and their helicopter safety.

  5. NEEDS MOAR REGULATION

  6. Why do you hate Joe Altobelli?

  7. A good rule in life: unless it is a matter of your life or death, do not travel helicopter. I have flown in a lot planes – Cesna Citations, KingAirs and most of the big commercial planes. Flying next week to Hawaii. No problem. Helicopter, – no thanks, I will walk. I once walked through an Osprey on a Navy landing craft tour. Nothing like that either.

    1. Driving to catch a helicopter is more dangerous than flying in the helicopter.

  8. Come on Reason, you know if we just have more regulation, enough regulation, massive amounts of regulation, there will never be another aviation accident, auto accident, industrial accident, etc. etc. etc. again!!! (sarc)

  9. When a politician is cashing in on a tragedy, whether the law he is proposing has anything to do with what happened is not the point of the exercise.

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  11. Maybe we can get Sherman to sponsor a requirement for helicopter ejection seats, and he can participate in the first (and last) public demonstration.

    1. Believe it or not, they actually are a thing. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kamov_Ka-50

      Of course, it’s Russians… Who actually make really innovative and effective aircraft egress systems. Just ask that MiG-29 pilot at the Paris Air Show.

    2. if it is a government programme, you can bet the seat will eject the person in danger straight up.

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  13. Yup. the practice of kneejerk bills to “solve” a “problem” with infinitessimally small numbers is almost always tied to money, from some source, that otherwise would not flow.

    Sort of like the kid that killed his Mother, then stole her “assault rifle’ and “drove( (he was never known to have driven previously) to a school to do a whoot-em-up with that weapon. A few “issues” surfaced later after some politicians went to work to float bills banning “assault weapons”. Problems like.. the Medical Examiner who first inspected the scene declared ALL the children he was had been shot at close range.. with a HANDGUN. Or, that they later found “the assault weapon” in the boot of the car he alledgedly drove to the school.. except he was not licensed to drive, nor was ever known to have driven, and except that the weapon “found” in the boot of that car was not an “assault weapon” at all, but a 12 gauge semiautomatic shotgun with tubular magazine. No “shoulder thing that goes up”, no “thirty clip magazine” nor a place to put one, etc. (I saw the video of the officer “clearing” that weapon after its discovery).
    Or how about the time an elderly individual alledgely shot out the window on his 32nd floor hotel room, then fired out of it into a large crowd gathered below, killing quite a few of them, Some of the weapons found in the room had “bump stocks” attached to them. Funny thing, FBI refused to allow BATF to take any of the weapons and examine them. Were THOSE rifles actually used with the bump stocks to increase rate of fire? We still do not know, but “bump stocks” were suddenly banned…… not to mention that quite a significant number of ex-military men wiht HUGE experience in all manner of weapons systems declare conclusively that the rapid fire rounds were from FULL AUTOMATIC military weapons of types we normal plebes cannot own.
    Or the two “assault weapons” involved in a shooting at a church in Spring Branch Texas…. one by a man who was a person denied, under law, the possession of ANY firearms, as his record held “disabling” reports of his history, and that weapon was used to kill some twenty or more people. The other “assault weapon” was owned and used by a neighbour who, upon hearing the shots fired, retrieved his own weapon and with ONY One round fired hit the killer and ended the shooting. But we HAD to have another attempt at “banning assault weapons”, didn’t we?
    Would not surprise me if this “representative” behind the bill was nore “representing” the company producing this expensive gadget that would not have prevented the crash. That’s what I smell here…….

  14. Speaking as a professional pilot with more than 40 years experience, the cause of the crash was immediately obvious: the pilot flew into weather where he couldn’t maintain Visual Flight Rules.

    Granted, I’m fixed wing, not rotary, so I might be wrong on the details, but VFR rules require maintaining 1000 feet above the terrain, 500 feet below the clouds, and 3 miles forward visibility.

    If the pilot can’t maintain that, then the pilot is required to either turn around, or climb to minimum en route altitude, and declare an emergency.

    This pilot failed on all counts.

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