Letters to the Editor 2019

To the Editor: 

I was a professional helicopter and airplane pilot since 1970. Most of my flight time has been flying the S-76 helicopter, the same type as the aircraft carrying Kobe Bryant.

When a pilot has flown extensively, he or she will experience just about every weather condition one can imagine. A few weather events are burned into my memory due to the challenges and consequential decisions that I faced. I believe I understand what the pilot was facing.

In this accident, the pilot had several options. One was to cancel the flight beforehand.

The pilot checks weather conditions prior to the flight. There were several airports along the planned route and, although they were under instrument meteorological conditions, they were very acceptable for helicopter operations.

It often occurs that the weather along a route is much worse than that posted by airports in the vicinity of the route. It appears that was the situation.

The pilot, using the only weather information available, would have found it acceptable. We can’t fault the pilot for that.

The pilot’s second option was to choose if this flight would be under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) or Instrument Flight Rules (IFR). Unfortunately, the pilot’s company did not possess an IFR certificate, so he couldn’t fly IFR, that is, in the clouds.

Instead, he would have to fly VFR, which is visually, or not at all. This pilot could, under severe conditions, for the safety of his passengers, have taken action, violating Federal Aviation Administration (FFA) regulations.

He could have climbed over the mountains and into the clouds, but the FAA would challenge him for his actions. Had he done this, there is reason to believe that this flight could have been completed safely; however, being between VFR and IFR is dangerous. It's either one or the other.

I am sure this thought raced through his mind, but there were two reasons he might have decided against IFR.

First, he knew he would be breaking FAA rules and would have to justify it, and second, he knew there were no airports near his destination and you need an airport to land IFR.

The nearest airport was approximately 60 miles away from his destination. That would mean he would have to find several vehicles at a moment's notice to take the passengers on a long ride to the destination.

This would defeat the whole purpose of the helicopter, so should he turn back or try to “soldier on” to the destination, or did he have another option?

He could have landed the aircraft. A helicopter can land in any space large enough to clear the rotor blades from any obstructions.

A parking lot, a field, anywhere the aircraft could fit, would allow a safe landing. You might violate some rule, but you and your passengers would be safe.

Unfortunately, low clouds and poor visibility can lead to inadvertently flying into the fog and losing all sight of the ground. I think this is what happened. 

I am not sure why the pilot did not take advantage of his options. There might have been pressure to complete the trip.

A cancelation might have had serious consequences for him or his company. I don’t know, but this kind of consideration should never overtake his most important job, which is to land his passengers safely.