The helicopter crash that killed NBA legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter and six other passengers was probably caused by the pilot becoming disoriented after flying into clouds, investigators said Tuesday.
Ara Zobayan, pilot of the chartered Island Express helicopter, probably suffered “spatial disorientation,” the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said.
Also likely contributing to the January 26, 2020 crash in Calabasas, California, was “self-induced pressure” on the pilot to complete the flight for his celebrity client, the NTSB said.
The board cited “inadequate review and oversight” of safety management processes by Island Express as a probable cause of the crash but did not find that the helicopter had experienced any mechanical problems.
Bryant, 41, was travelling with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and six other passengers when the Sikorsky S-76 helicopter slammed into a fog-shrouded hillside west of Los Angeles. There were no survivors.
The NTSB said weather conditions were marginal on the morning of the flight but acceptable for flying under visual flight rules, where a pilot stays out of the clouds and maintains eye contact with the ground.
Shortly before the crash, the pilot said he was climbing to 1200m to get above the clouds but the helicopter was actually in a steep left turn and descending rapidly, NTSB investigators said.
“This manoeuvre is consistent with the pilot experiencing spatial disorientation in limited visibility conditions,” said NTSB chairman Robert Sumwalt. “He would incorrectly perceive that the helicopter was climbing when it was descending.” “We are talking about spatial disorientation where literally the pilot may not know which way is up or down, whether he or she is leaning left or right,” Sumwalt said.
‘LIKELY SELF-INDUCED PRESSURE’
In its official finding, the NTSB said “the probable cause of this accident was the pilot’s decision to continue flight under visual flight rules into instrument meteorological conditions which resulted in the pilot’s spatial disorientation and loss of control.”
“Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s likely self-induced pressure,” the NTSB, and “Island Express helicopter’s Inc. inadequate review and oversight of its safety management processes.”
Bryant is widely regarded as one of the greatest basketball players in history, an iconic figure who became one of the faces of his sport during a glittering two-decade career with the Los Angeles Lakers.
He was a five-time NBA champion in a career that began in 1996 straight out of a high school and lasted until his retirement in 2016.
He also was a two-time Olympic gold medallist, helping spark the US squad of NBA stars to titles in 2008 in Beijing and 2012 in London.