There are no known direct eyewitnesses of the crash of helicopter flight Sikorsky S-76B N72EX with 9 people on board, including Kobe Bryant. However, there are many earwitnesses who heard the helicopter flying over their heads, but weren't able to see it due to extreme fog at the site, shortly before it crashed into a hill. Therefore, extremely low visibility was the probable cause of this helicopter crash. By assuming that, here's the question:

Why do helicopters crash in low visibility (instrument meteorological conditions IMC)?

For instance, what are current theories about the sequence of events of the helicopter crash of flight N72EX, assumed the crash happened due to the low visibility on site? Why did the pilot suddenly increase altitude above Ventura Freeway 101? And why didn't he follow freeway 101 by GPS (on this high altitude), although he was a certified IFR pilot flying under special VFR? And after his ascent, why the slow turn to the left followed by a sudden increase in speed while diving into the hill at about 4000 feet per minute? (Primary source: Flightradar24) (Note: ATC recording doesn't provide much useful information...)

[Note: I'm not interested in the many different theories or speculations about the crash of flight N72EX, just what are the most probable events that lead to the crash, if it was indeed caused by low visibility? Btw the crash flight N72EX was just used as an example. Actually, any other helicopter crashes caused by low visibility could be described in details as well, if they contribute to answering the main question. Please answer by using primary and secondary sources as well as some logic, physics/aerodynamics and psychology, thanks.]

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    $\begingroup$ That's quite a bit of assuming, generalizing and speculating... $\endgroup$
    – Jpe61
    Commented Jan 29, 2020 at 21:00
  • $\begingroup$ This could be improved by focusing on the actual question in the second paragraph. Though you say you are not interested in speculations, the rest of the post seems to be mostly focused on it. $\endgroup$
    – fooot
    Commented Jan 29, 2020 at 21:01
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    $\begingroup$ Please consider FAA and aeromedical sources on physiology, aerodynamics, disorientation, etc before asking us to reproduce years of exhaustive studies on the subjects. There is a lot of information out there on what causes disorientation (physically, mentally, medically, etc) that we don't need to reproduce here, and wouldn't fit the format of this site anyway. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Commented Jan 29, 2020 at 21:14
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    $\begingroup$ Hello everyone, I completely changed question and text accordingly, was a lot of work. Thanks especially to @Sean and "fooot" to get my thoughts straight...hope that the question will be unlocked :-) $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 29, 2020 at 23:41
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    $\begingroup$ Much better, but I still think that waiting on the NTSB report is a better bet than asking random internet people to speculate. Good enough to vote for unlocking though. And i deleted my earlier comments, leaving up the links. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 30, 2020 at 0:02

1 Answer 1


The only flight rule that will completely eliminate human error is to ban people from flying planes or programming UAVs.

More regulations won't solve this. Aviation is already strictly regulated.

As for why the pilot did not climb, well, you will have to ask him.

Keep in mind that a mechanical failure could be to blame.

We just don't know.

Answer to the previous question:
The risks of continued visual flight into poor conditions are already pretty well documented. It is a serious hazard for all flying machines, not just helicopters. We don't know if that is what caused the crash or is even a contributing factor, though some of the makings of a CFIT accident are present (bad weather, possible perceived pressure to go, and possible complacency due to familiarity with the area). Anything we say here, including what I just typed, is pure speculation.

We don't know why the helicopter crashed and we will likely never know for sure. It was not equipped wIth a CVR or FDR nor was it required to be so equipped.

This is a tragic accident and that's all we know.

  • $\begingroup$ Yes, we don't know what caused the crash, but as I wrote I assumed it's due to poor visibility. Now, why is it dangerous to fly IFR without any visibility? Because the pilot was IFR certified, and flying under special VFR. He should have been perfectly capable to fly through the fog by ascending and then just navigate by GPS. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 29, 2020 at 21:58
  • $\begingroup$ You are correct in a sense. If you are IFR rated, have a clearance, and commit yourself fully to flying and navigating by instruments only it is fairly routine. The trouble is when you aren't legally on an IFR clearance. I am not a helicopter pilot, and have never technically flown special VFR, but I know how challenging it can be to be navigating VFR in poor conditions and trying swap your attention between terrain and instruments. The inside/outside scan transition chews up time and degrades rather than enhances situational awareness. You have to trust that the pilot was doing his best. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 29, 2020 at 23:23
  • $\begingroup$ @FlyHighJess Nobody disputes that a professional pilot should be able to handle an SVFR clearance and flight. $\endgroup$
    – acpilot
    Commented Jan 29, 2020 at 23:32
  • $\begingroup$ @acpilot: I almost completey changed the question. Would be great if you'd like to update your answer accordingly, thanks! $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 29, 2020 at 23:43
  • $\begingroup$ Your above response sounds like you are assuming that IFR skills and GPS alone are enough to keep you safe in IMC. The safety does not start there. It starts with the IFR flight planning. Proper flight planning would NOT have included flight that close to terrain. All IFR flight planning includes terrain clearance in excess of 2000 feet unless specifically on a published and defined flight path on a published Instrument Procedure. This IFR capable pilot was not flying IFR. He could not fly IFR because he was not flying on an IFR flight plan. $\endgroup$
    – Dean F.
    Commented Jan 30, 2020 at 14:04

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