NTSB Says Kobe Bryant Helicopter Pilot Was Likely Disoriented in Clouds, Leading to Fatal Crash

The Bryants were traveling to a basketball tournament at Kobe's Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, California, at the time of the crash into a hillside in Calabasas

Just over a year after the January 26, 2020 helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others, the National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) met to determine the accident's probable cause.

During a public, livestreamed hearing on Tuesday, members of the NTSB said that pilot Ara Zobayan flew through clouds ahead of the crash last year, which is an apparent violation of federal standards and likely led to him being spatially disorientated, the Associated Press reported.

"He was flying under visual flight rules (VFR), which legally prohibited him from penetrating clouds," NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said. "However, he continued this VFR flight through the clouds, into instrument meterological conditions."

Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant. Clicks Images/Getty Images

The Bryants, as well as passengers John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli, Sarah Chester, Payton Chester, and Christina Mauser, were traveling to a basketball tournament at Kobe's Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, California, at the time of the crash into a hillside in Calabasas.

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The NTSB previously said that the Sikorsky S-76B helicopter did not have engine failure before it crashed. The NTSB's previous report also included photos showing foggy conditions in the area the morning of the crash.

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During the meeting — led by Sumwalt — NTSB Investigator-in-Charge Bill English said that investigations did not indicate that the weather conditions should have prevented the flight and that the failures came from "the in-flight decisions, the pressing on at high speed."

Zobayan, who worked for the company that operated the aircraft, Island Express Helicopters, had frequently flown Bryant. The pilot had 8,200 hours of flight experience and logged about 1,250 hours in the S76 helicopter before his death in the crash, PEOPLE previously reported.

The NTSB also said that Zobayan's "self-induced pressure and plan continuation bias" also were factors in the crash.

Said Sumwalt, "I think this illustrates that even good pilots can end up in bad situations."

Kobe's wife, Vanessa Bryant, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Island Express Helicopters last year and is seeking extensive damages from the company. Families of the other victims have also filed wrongful death lawsuits against Island Express. Both legal battles are ongoing.

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In a press conference days after the crash, Jennifer Homendy with The National Transportation Safety Board said the helicopter was not equipped with a terrain awareness and warning system (TAWS), a system aimed at preventing unintentional impacts with the ground.

Part of Tuesday's hearing's focus was discussions over whether the NTSB will suggest to the FAA that TAWS should be legally required in all helicopters.

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