The following was originally published as a part of our "Predictions & Provocations for Sport: 2021" issue.
There’s no question that 2020 will be both a year to remember and a year that many of us will want to forget.
And while COVID-19 and America’s reawakening on race came front and center, it quickly overshadowed a tragic loss that occurred just weeks in 2020: the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his daughter, Gianna Bryant, and friends Payton Chester, Sarah Chester, Alyssa Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, John Altobelli, Christina Mauser, and the helicopter's pilot, Ara Zobayan.
If there’s one thing that has always sparked my curiosity, it’s aviation. As a child, I lived within 2 miles of LaGuardia Airport. I even bought a radio scanner, and at night, I’d listen to air traffic control for both LGA and JFK.
When the weather would turn terrible, I’d tune in even more to my scanner. As the communications between pilots and controllers would get more frenetic, I could also hear the increased ear-piercing roar of jet-engines flying past the roof of my 6th-floor building in Queens.
As I grew up, my fascination with aviation would turn to obsession, studying how things fly, grabbing any opportunity to be in a plane or helicopter. My life would eventually allow me to ride in an open-cockpit biplane in San Diego, fly in helicopters around Hawaii, partake in a long-haul adventure to Australia and New Zealand with my wife, fly that “private-jet-life” working for a CEO, and that one time that I got the stick on a flight back from Sedona to Phoenix on a small prop plane. Did I mention, I love flying?
Today, the highest achievement in my love for flying is my drone. I take it almost everywhere I travel. My beloved and annual trips to Hawaii have allowed me to chase humpback whales near Maui and post some awe-inspiring videos.
A great thing about flying a drone today is the amount of technology that is packed into them. In the early days of drones, you’d hear of people crashing them into trees, buildings, the ground, and drone pilots themselves. I had waited a while until I felt that there was enough safety technology built into them that they could be flown safely, with what is known as “obstacle avoidance” technology.
While my consumer marketed drone has a lot of safety technology built into it, I would later find out that Kobe Bryant’s own helicopter didn’t have similar, modern redundancies.
And that would be my shock.
My $1500 drone had technology that Kobe Bryant’s copter did not.
Even if I tried my best to fly my drone into an object, it would warn me that I’m about to crash into something, and ultimately, would stop just before such an accident. Whether it be a tree, a building, or a human, my drone has sensors to detect such objects.
And, in a more sophisticated, multi-million dollar vehicle, Kobe Bryant’s helicopter lacked what's in my amateur device, a “terrain warning system.”
The system, had it been installed, could have avoided that ill-fated day. While such a system is required on commercial airlines, after a crash in 2004, the NTSB had recommended that helicopters come equipped with terrain warning systems. Air ambulances were required to have such systems. But a decision by regulators to make the requirement for helicopters that ferried passengers for hire was deemed unnecessary.
There’s no absolute way to say whether or not had a terrain warning device could have saved the lives of those who perished on that Saturday in January. But the contributory circumstances that led to the Kobe Bryant crash, flying blind, in the middle of the fog, certainly could have helped.
It seems foolish to think that I have more safety built into my tiny drone than something many multiples the size, and one that carries precious cargo - people.
I would also learn that even the most basic of crash-proof recorders, like a flight data recorder, and a cockpit voice recorder, weren’t on Kobe’s helicopter, which could have aided in better understanding what might have lead to the crash.
I hope that in 2021, The Helicopter Safety Act, now officially titled the “Kobe and Gianna Bryant Helicopter Safety Act,” will require the Federal Aviation Administration to strengthen federal safety standards for helicopters.
It’s at times like this, when most of us are stranded on the ground, that those up on high, can enact meaningful change, that one day could save a life.
Andrew Ramsammy leads the vision for the Global Sport Matters content platform and media enterprise. Before joining GSI, he was the Director of Audience Strategy at Arizona PBS. As a leading media executive, Andrew is a multiple Emmy Award winner with more than 20 years of global experience in creative, content, and production.
Although no one could have predicted all that 2020 has been, what lessons will the world of sport take into next year?
We asked some of the best and brightest minds to contribute their thoughts.