This helicopter safety tech could have saved him

NTSB video shows ravine, devastation

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LOS ANGELES — When fog closes in, it can be deadly for helicopter pilots.

“Everything goes bad really fast,” said Coyt Bailey, a veteran helicopter pilot based in Flowood, Mississippi, about those who become disoriented in the clouds, lose sight of the ground and horizon, then crash.

Whether spatial disorientation played a role in the accident that killed Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others is yet to be determined. It’s one possibility among several. But the National Transportation Safety Board, investigating the crash Sunday on a rugged hillside northwest of Los Angeles in Calabasas, California, is clear about one thing: technology might have saved the retired NBA superstar, the pilot and passengers.

The big Sikorsky S-76B wasn’t equipped with a Terrain Awareness and Warning System, or TAWS, a radar-based device that warns pilots of mountains hiding in the mist ahead, NTSB board member Jennifer Homendy told reporters.

On Thursday, a congressman from Los Angeles proposed requiring them on all helicopters. U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman, a Democrat, said they will be a key feature of his Kobe Bryant and Gianna Bryant Helicopter Safety Act that he will introduce.

A new tribute mural honoring Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, in Austin, Texas. The mural, located behind the Sushi Hi restaurant along Guadalupe Street, was created by Texas-based artist Laced and Found with help from Snuk One and Riki Loring.

NTSB has included TAWS on its “most wanted list” for regulatory actions starting in 2008. The Federal Aviation Administration relented when it comes to air ambulance helicopters, but it did not extend the requirement to large passenger-carrying choppers like the one ferrying the Bryant party about 90 miles to a girls’ basketball tournament.

NTSB: ‘Single most important’ device

“TAWS is considered by many in the airplane safety community as the single most important safety device introduced to prevent commercial fatal accidents in the last 20 years,” the FAA acknowledged in a 2012 report. 

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