INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Former Chopper 8 pilot Keith McCutchen has lost dear friends over the years to helicopter crashes. He said the death of nine people Sunday, including Kobe Bryant is mourned, especially by anyone connected to the industry.
“My heart and prayers are with the family members who survive,” McCutchen said.
He has more than 15,000 hours of experience over 40 years flying helicopters, including in the military, for medical airlifts in Indianapolis and for 20 years at WISH-TV.
He’s also been an expert witness on behalf of families of loved ones killed in crashes.
He points to a couple of factors in this case.
First, the weather was cloudy enough to ground LA police helicopters.
“It’s not easy in really poor visibility because you have to have a visible horizon out there in front of you to determine whether you are level or not level, whether you are dipping too far forward or not,” he said.
He says it’s possible, even probable, the pilot became disoriented as he climbed then took a sharp turn right before the dive.
It’s similar to what happened in the plane crash killing John F. Kennedy Jr.
“In the television business, there were many times when we wanted to go and get the story and I would have to say the weather is not good enough, we can’t go,” McCutchen said. “I’m not going to do it. We had to do it a different way.”
He says at times, every pilot comes up against weather that is beyond their aircraft or ability.
“As it continues to deteriorate, you need to slow down and come down,” he said.
He also questions why a second pilot was not on board, which he says is typical for this type of aircraft.
He calls the Sikorsky S-76 a good chopper, popular with executives in Los Angeles and New York. That’s why he believes investigators will call this a weather-related crash.
“That means the weather was not good enough for the conditions that the pilot was trying to fly in,” McCutchen said.
He expects an initial report from the NTSB in about two weeks. But the final conclusion is likely at least a year away while investigators comb through pages upon pages of data, including the helicopter’s inspections and the pilot’s experience.
The goal is not just to give an answer to Kobe’s family and fans, but so that other families don’t have to experience a similar thing.
“It’s hard but accidents happen and we try to figure out why and prevent this from happening again.”