The National Transportation Safety Board has confirmed the cause of the Jan. 26, 2020 helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others.
During a briefing Tuesday morning that streamed live online, NTSB chairman Robert Sumwalt said pilot error is to blame for the crash, adding that pilot Ara Zobayan likely developed spacial disorientation — becoming disoriented while flying in heavy fog.
The helicopter left Orange County, California and was on its way to Camarillo for a youth basketball tournament when it slammed into a hillside in Calabasas at 9:45 a.m.
Investigators said moments before the crash, Zobayan believed he was climbing above the fog when he was actually descending.
Zobayan was the chief pilot for Island Express helicopter company, with ten years experience flying in the area.
But investigators said on the day of the crash, he flew in what appeared to be a violation of federal standards and that the helicopter did not have any “black box” recording devices, which were not required.
Investigators added that evidence indicated the pilot failed to strictly follow the aircraft’s instruments and his training, and he did not appear to have a backup plan if something went wrong.
The NTSB found no mechanical problems on the Sikorsky S-76B helicopter that would have contributed to the crash. The agency also noted that the helicopter company did not implement the entire safety management system in the helicopter, something the NTSB recommends.
The agency described the pilot and his celebrity client as “very close” friends, and said Zobayan likely did not want to disappoint Kobe Bryant, although there was “no evidence” that “pressure” was put on the pilot to complete the flight.
With this news, more lawsuits will likely follow. Bryant’s widow Vanessa already filed a lawsuit last year suing the pilot and the company that owned and operated the helicopter for alleged negligence and the wrongful deaths of her husband and daughter.
Vanessa also filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for sharing unauthorized photos of the crash site.