Investigators confirm disturbing theory about fatal Kobe Bryant crash

Sam Goodwin
·Sports Editor
·3-min read
Kobe and Gianna Bryant, pictured here before their tragic deaths.
Kobe and Gianna Bryant were among nine killed in the devastating helicopter crash. Image: Getty

America’s National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) have announced that the actions of the pilot were the probable cause of the 2020 helicopter crash that killed NBA legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others.

The NTSB on Tuesday said the pilot who crashed into a California hillside in January last year went against his training and violated flight rules by flying into thick clouds.

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The board cited pilot Ara Zobayan’s decision to continue the flight into weather conditions that resulted in his “spatial disorientation and loss of control”, also citing his “likely self-induced pressure” to complete the flight.

Zobayan likely became so disoriented that he could not discern up from down, investigators concluded.

The NTSB said Zobayan told air traffic controllers that his helicopter was climbing out of heavy clouds when in fact it was descending, immediately before slamming into the hillside near the town of Calabasas.

The agency criticised Zobayan’s decision to fly into the clouds, saying he violated federal standards that required him to be able to see where he was going before the helicopter crashed during a roughly 40-minute flight.

The agency cited Zobayan’s “poor decision to fly in excess of airspeed” and said the weather conditions were “inconsistent with adverse weather training.”

Zobayan was among the nine people killed, including Bryant's 13-year-old daughter Gianna.

Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna, pictured here at a Los Angeles Lakers game in 2019.
Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna at a Los Angeles Lakers game in 2019. (Photo by Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images)

NTSB criticises pilot’s poor decision making

The pilot went against his training by becoming spatially disoriented in thick clouds, a condition that can happen to pilots in low visibility, when they cannot tell up from down or discern which way an aircraft is banking, board members said.

Just before the January 26, 2020 crash, Zobayan told flight controllers he was climbing in the helicopter and had nearly broken through the clouds.

But NTSB investigators said that the Sikorsky S-76 helicopter was in fact banking and beginning to descend at increasing magnitude, investigators said.

Emergency personnel, pictured here working at the crash site where Kobe Bryant died.
Emergency personnel work at the helicopter crash site where Kobe Bryant and eight others were killed. (Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)

They also said that Zobayan did not file a back-up flight plan and chose not to land at a nearby local airport to wait out the bad weather.

There was 184 aircraft crashes between 2010-2019 involving spatial disorientation, including 20 fatal helicopter crashes, the NTSB said.

Bryant, 41, an 18-time NBA all-star with the Los Angeles Lakers, was traveling with Gianna, two other girls and several friends to a youth basketball tournament at the time of the crash.

The accident prompted an outpouring of shock and grief from sports fans worldwide.

with agencies

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