Rock, yeah the pilot was definitely knowledgeable and experienced. He was flying an S76, which is a super high end, capable helicopter normally only used by governments and anyone else who can afford it.
As far as I know, a pilot can switch from VFR to Instrument (IFR) on a whim by contacting Air Traffic Control. But after this is done, ATC has total control of the flight. You just tell them your destination airport and ATC will guide the pilot thru the airspace and even straight onto the runway of a controlled airport safely. Having said that, if the helo's destination was a baseball field or park, then ATC will not be able to guide the pilot and land safely on the ground. The pilot would have to make that decision whether it's safe enough to navigate to that field and land. And the pilot would have to announce it to ATC. There's one thing flying around in SoCal, every sliver of airspace is controlled. You cannot fly from one city to another without ATC knowing. When I was taking lessons, talking to ATC never ended. I remember needing to contact one ATC frequency to another ATC frequency as we flew from one airport to the next. Even when entering SoCal from ANY direction, pilots must contact SoCal Approach (or they contact you first). Nothing gets through without them knowing.
On that foggy day I was out near the foothills of SoCal and in some areas I had to slow down because I couldn't see 50 feet in front of me. The S76 surely would have had the instruments to tell the pilot the ground level and other major obstacles without him seeing them. Anyway, even though ATC is strict and vigilant, the pilot still has a great deal of discretion.
Last edited by OCL; 01-28-2020 at 04:23 PM.