FILE PHOTO: A mural of late Kobe Bryant, who perished one year ago alongside his daughter and seven others when their helicopter crashed into a hillside, next to a gym in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 26, 2021. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
WASHINGTON — The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) on Tuesday cited the pilot’s “poor decision making” as the probable cause of the January 2020 helicopter crash that killed retired NBA star Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others, saying the pilot became disoriented and did not follow rules for flying in cloudy weather.
The NTSB cited pilot Ara Zobayan’s “poor decision to fly in excess of airspeed.” It said the weather conditions were inconsistent with adverse weather training and resulted in the pilot’s “spatial disorientation and loss of control.”
The board also cited Zobayan’s “likely self-induced pressure” to complete the flight.
Zobayan told air traffic controllers that his helicopter was climbing out of heavy clouds when in fact it was descending, immediately before slamming into a hillside near the town of Calabasas in California, the agency said. Zobayan was among those killed in the crash of the Sikorsky S-76B helicopter outside Los Angeles in hilly terrain.
Bryant, 41, an 18-time National Basketball Association all-star with the Los Angeles Lakers, was traveling with his 13-year-old daughter, 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.
The NTSB also cited the company operating the doomed helicopter, Island Express Helicopters, for “inadequate review and oversight of its safety management processes.” Lawyers for the company did not immediately comment.
The board said previously an examination of the helicopter’s engines and rotors found no evidence of catastrophic mechanical failure.
NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said Zobayan should not have flown into the clouds.
“Unfortunately, we continue to see these same issues influence poor decision making among otherwise experienced pilots in aviation crashes,” he said. “Had this pilot not succumbed to the pressures he placed on himself to continue the flight into adverse weather, it is likely this accident would not have happened.”
The NTSB urged the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to require simulator training to address “procedures needed to recognize and respond to changing weather conditions” and to convene a panel to address pilot disorientation. It also called on the FAA to require flight data recorders in all charter helicopters.
The FAA said it “takes NTSB recommendations very seriously” and said it was reviewing the feasibility of requiring all charter companies to install such recorders on their aircraft.

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The helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gigi, crashed on Jan. 26, 2020.Illustration: Getty ImagesInvestigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) today said the pilot in the helicopter crash that killed Kobe and Gigi Bryant and six other passengers violated federal rules by flying into clouds, where the pilot became disoriented in the air.All nine passengers on board, including the pilot, Ara Zobayan, were killed on impact.NTSB chairman Robert Sumwalt said Zobayan disregarded rules that barred pilots from traveling through the clouds. And according to investigators, Zobayan indicated he was trying to fly above the fog and to finish the flight. Instead, he fell quickly through the sky, leaving the NTSB to conclude he was disoriented in the air.In the virtual NTSB live stream, one investigator described how a pilot’s inner ear could give a “false sense of orientation,” in foggy skies.G/O Media may get a commissionZobayan was a friend of Byant’s and flew the former basketball star and his family often.The night before the flight Zobayan texted, “not the best day tomorrow, but it is not as bad as today” to the charter service that managed Bryant’s helicopter travel. Hours before the crash, however, Zobayan texted “weather looking OK,” according to previous NTSB findings. But today, the board found there was “no evidence that Island Express, the air charter broker or the client (Kobe Bryant) placed pressure on the pilot to accept” or finish the flight. Bryant and the other passengers on board were flying from Orange County on their way to a youth basketball tournament at Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, California. .

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