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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