Kobe Bryant Crash Caused After Pilot Was Disorientated In Clouds, According To Federal Investigation

Terrence Smith

On Tuesday, U.S. safety investigators revealed their findings from the investigation into the 2020 helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, that killed basketball legend Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others, as reported by the Associated Press. The revelations came during a federal hearing focused on determining the probable cause or causes of the tragedy.

Robert Sumwalt, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said that Pilot Ara Zobayan violated a federal standard and flew the Sikorsky S-76 helicopter through clouds. Zobayan was flying under visual flight rules, which required visibility when flying, and his decision to sharply climb the aircraft through the clouds likely caused him to become disorientated. The pilot then abruptly banked the helicopter, causing it to crash into the hills below. The aircraft did not have any "black box" recording devices that may have given a clearer understanding of the event, as they weren't required.

The tragic death of such a high-profile figure has seen several lawsuits along with state and federal legislation in its aftermath. Ed Coleman, an Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University professor and aircraft safety science expert who was involved in the hearing, described how important it was to determine the likely cause or causes and ensure a misfortune of such nature did not happen again.

"I think the whole world is watching because it's Kobe," Coleman said.

On January 26, 2020, Bryant and Gianna were among eight passengers on a flight from Orange County to his Mamba Sports Academy in Ventura County for a youth basketball game. When passing through the San Fernando Valley, the helicopter encountered fog before banking and then plunging, killing all aboard upon impact and becoming engulfed in flames. Previous reports from the National Transportation Safety Board revealed that there was no sign of mechanical failure and they considered the event an accident.

The report follows more than a year of efforts to determine who, if anyone, should be blamed for what happened. Bryant's widow Vanessa blamed Zobayan for the crash, and she and other family members of the victims felt the companies that owned and operated the helicopter should take responsibility. The helicopter companies -- Island Express Helicopters Inc. and its owner, Island Express Holding Corp. -- described the foggy weather as "an act of God" and said the air traffic controllers should receive blame. Zobayan's brother Berge did not blame Bryant, but did say the retired basketball player understood the danger that comes with flying.

The report describes the NTSB as an independent federal agency that investigates transportation-related crashes but has no enforcement powers. The board will likely make nonbinding recommendations when it releases its full findings from the crash.

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