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Kobe's Pilot Got Special Clearance to Fly

Fog was so bad, police copters were grounded at the time
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 27, 2020 4:00 PM CST
A body is moved from the scene of a helicopter crash that killed former NBA basketball player Kobe Bryant in Calabasas, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020.   (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
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(Newser) It was foggy when the helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and seven others crashed into a hillside just outside Los Angeles—so foggy that police helicopters had been grounded at the time. And CNN now reports that Bryant's pilot had actually gotten special clearance to fly. Specifically, he was flying under "special visual flight rules" (SVFR), which allow pilots to fly when weather conditions are worse than what is allowed under regular visual flight rules (VFR). An air traffic control conversation between the pilot and the Burbank Airport control tower reveals the tower allowed the flight, which took off from Irvine, to proceed under SVFR, and the pilot can be heard confirming to the tower, "Maintain special VFR at or below 2,500." A CNN meteorologist says clouds and fog were so dense at the time that visibility was "extremely low."

A CNN transportation analyst says SVFR clearance is "pretty normal," noting, "If you're a pilot, and you're in marginal conditions, or changing conditions that become marginal, you might call air traffic control" to request it. However, he also says "it's not something that's often recommended." USA Today notes that when the helicopter took off, visibility was 3 to 4 miles and the lowest overcast cloud layer was 1,000 to 1,500 feet (LAPD's flight minimums are 2 miles of visibility and a cloud ceiling of 800 feet). A former pilot who used to fly Bryant in the same copter tells the Los Angeles Times the weather conditions for flying were "not good at all," and theorizes that was most likely the reason for the crash. The investigation into what went wrong continues, but the LA County sheriff says it's a "logistical nightmare" because the crash site is not easily accessible. The rough terrain, coupled with the condition of the site, could mean some victims' bodies are not recovered for days. (Read more Kobe Bryant stories.)

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