Kobe Bryant, reminder of the dangers of VMC into IMC

I want to preface this with the fact that it is still unclear how Kobe Bryant, former NBA basketball player and future Hall of Famer, and 8 others died tragically in a helicopter crash Sunday in California. They were flying in was a Sikorsky S-76B helicopter. The NTSB is investigating the true cause of the crash but a common theory that has sparked interest around the world is the possibility that it could have been due to the pilots encountering adverse conditions, while flying under special VFR rules.

Here is an amazing recount of the incident by VASAviation, with ATC communications. Also, here is a recreation, using Google Earth, of the flight path and what the pilots may have seen.

A great resource to gain a better understanding of the dangers of flying VFR into IMC conditions is this video by FlightChops. He’s actually noted a statistical spike in views for that particular video since the crash. Here’s a few statistics to keep in mind.

  • Over 72% of VFR into IMC accidents are fatal versus 17% among other types of general aviation events.
  • The average VFR pilot had “178 seconds to live” upon entering instrument meteorological conditions.
  • Accidents by VFR pilots in IMC typically account only for a proportion of the total number of GA accidents, such occurrences account for 75% of weather related.

While there are many factors and influences that can cause pilots issues while in flight, weather is one of the most pervasive and prominent.

This served as a very stark reminder to pilots everywhere of the risks. Special VFR, what the helicopter was operating under, allow helicopters, because they are slower and easier to maneuver around weather, that says you can operate within an airports airspace as long as you can maintain clear of clouds and 1 mile of visibility. If you want to transit through an airport’s controlled airspace during weather below VFR minimums, you need to request SVFR.

References: “Flying VFR into IMC – a top KILLER of pilots – My close encounter” video by FlightChops, “Using Special VFR and Contact Approach” by Disciples of Flight, “Inadvertent Weather” by SKYbrary, “178 seconds to live”,