The accident scene

While the nation grieves the shocking death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others in a helicopter crash on Sunday, there are certainly more questions than answers as to how the tragedy happened.

Bryant, 41, and Gianna, 13, were riding in one of his helicopters on their way to his Mamba Sports Academy when the aircraft suddenly crashed into the hillside of Calabasas, Calif.

The seven other passengers John, Keri and Alyssa Altobelli; Christina Mauser; Sarah and Payton Chester; and pilot Ara Zobayan also perished.

Although there are no clear answers as to what led to the fatal crash, reports have noted that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s and Los Angeles Police departments grounded their choppers on Sunday due to heavy fog.


Yahoo Lifestyle talked to aviation expert Scott Shappell, PhD, who is a professor of human factors and systems at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and a developer of a system used in human factor investigations worldwide, about what happens during a helicopter crash investigation.

“When you go in and look at an aviation accident, no matter what that accident involves, initially your first reaction is to look for survivors,” explains Shappell, who spent 16 years as an aerospace experimental psychologist with the U.S. Navy. “Then you’re looking for causes. You’re trying to identify what brought the aircraft down.”

Shappell also noted that during the rigorous investigation, officials will look into possible mechanical issues, as well as the background of the pilot, including a detailed history of the individual passenger’s last 72 hours.

“After everything else has been extinguished,” he says, “we start looking at human factors. What was different that day than any other day that the individual may have been flying?’”

Due to helicopters having to fly at a lower altitude and slower speed, inclement weather makes the flight more difficult and even dangerous. Shappell explains that because Zobayan could not see out of his window due to poor visibility, he may have had to follow instrument flight rules, which would have forced Zobayan to rely on his instruments to tell him where he was.

“So the aircraft — Sikorsky aircraft — are [made] very well and very safe,” he says. “The fact that there may be two positions to fly doesn’t require two people to fly. Only one person would have the controls at any one time.”

Still, with little to no information about what caused the crash, Shappell says the most important thing right now is to let the families involved grieve.

“I’ve been around fatal accidents for 25 years, and I’ve talked to people who have lost loved ones,” Shappell tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “It destroys families and those families need our support…this isn’t something that we’ll have an answer for in the next couple days or for that matter, maybe even a couple months.”

He adds: “In the meantime, wrap your arms around your loved ones and be thankful for the day that we have.”