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NTSB Investigators: Bad Weather 'Did Not Sneak Up' On Pilot In Crash That Killed Kobe Bryant, 8 Others

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FILE: A helicopter flies over a Kobe Bryant mural in downtown L.A. the day of the fatal crash in Calabasas. (Apu Gomes/ AFP via Getty Images)
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The National Transportation Safety Board today discussed its investigators' report on the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others onboard.

The NTSB’s preliminary report found several decisions made by the pilot were in direct contrast to federal standards. One finding:

The excessive speed, entering the clouds, the rapid rate of climb and the left turn were not consistent with his training.

Investigators say the helicopter pilot, Ara Zobayan, was flying under a policy called Visual Flight Rules, meaning he needed to avoid the clouds covering the area.

Zobayan was climbing through the clouds when the helicopter banked abruptly and plunged into a hillside in Calabasas. Investigators found that Zobayan likely became disoriented while flying through the clouds because he lost visual references, leading him to turn the helicopter, which caused the crash.

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NTSB investigators didn’t mince words. One of them — Bill English — went so far as to say the weather “did not sneak up” on the pilot and that once Zobayan became disoriented, he seemingly “did not reference his instruments, did not understand them, or did not trust them.”

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Emergency personnel work at the helicopter crash site that claimed the life of former NBA great Kobe Bryant. Bryant, 41, his daughter Gianna, 13, and seven others were killed in a Jan. 26, 2020 crash the day before. (Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)

Investigators described the crash as preventable, the pilot as experienced, and his employer, Island Express Helicopters, a generally safe charter operation that had a safety management system, but there were holes in its development and implementation.

The board says pilot training for how to handle disorientation, including practicing with simulators, could help them avoid crashes.

Vanessa Bryant, Kobe's widow, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the company last year.

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NPR reports:

Also contributing to the accident, the board said Tuesday, was the pilot's likely "self-induced pressure" to please a high-profile client and a bias toward continuing with the established plan. It also cited the helicopter operator's inadequate review of its safety management processes.

The group on board the helicopter was traveling from Orange County to Bryant's Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks.

Following today's hearing, U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) announced he would add two new provisions to the Kobe and Gianna Bryant Helicopter Safety Act which he first introduced last year with fellow Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein. According to a news release from his office those are:

  • require new standards for initial and recurrent pilot training for relevant helicopter operations
  • convene a multidisciplinary panel to evaluate technologies effective for training pilots to recognize the onset of spatial disorientation.

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