According to the NTSB, Kobe Bryant’s accident pilot shows spatial differences


A year ago, a helicopter pilot who crashed into a misty Calabasas hillside, killing Kobe Bryant and the eight people on board, should not have flown in cloudy conditions where he was disoriented, federal regulators said Tuesday.

The National Transportation Safety Board said pilot Ara Zobayan suffered spatial orientation while driving on cloudy and foggy terrain on a January 26, 2020 flight from Orange County to Camarillo.

NTSB President Robert Sumwalt said Zobayan flew according to visual flight rules, “yet the pilot continued to fly into the clouds”. Zobayan “legally banned” the flight of the cloud cover, but he did, Sunwalt said.

The Sikorsky helicopter did not have a controlled flight pattern when it crashed into a hillside near Las Virgenes Road and Willow Glen Street at 9:45 p.m.

NTSB member Michael Graham said Zobayan ignored his training, adding that as long as helicopters continue to fly into the clouds while applying visual flight rules, “a certain percentage will not come out alive.”

Although the NTSB had previously recommended that helicopters be equipped with accident-free flight and voice recorders, the Sikorsky on which Bryant flew did not have such equipment. The Federal Aviation Administration did not require such functions on the helicopter, nor was a safety management system required.

Detective Bill English told the board that Zobayan had informed air traffic control that he was “climbing to 4,000 feet” to get above the clouds. But according to English, the pilot experienced a spatial disorientation because the helicopter was tilted to the left, away from Highway 101, while communicating with the controller to land.

According to Dr. Dujuan Sevillian, Zoboyan misperceived altitude and acceleration and suffered a so-called somatogravic illusion. According to him, the acceleration of the chopper can cause the pilot to realize that the plane is crawling when it is not.

“Our inner ear can give us false orientation,” Sevillian said, noting that the lack of visual cues while surrounded by clouds exacerbates the problem and the pilot suffers from a so-called ‘tilt’.

Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, and several teammates, some parents and coaches, left John Wayne Airport in Orange County shortly after 9 a.m., heading for Camarillo Airport for the second day of the weekend’s tournament at Mamba Academy. a thousand oaks nearby.

Christina Mauser also died in the accident; Payton and Sarah Chester; John, Keri and Alyssa Altobelli; and Zobayan.

A witness to the Calabasas mountain bike trail told investigators that the area was surrounded by fog and that he heard the sound of a helicopter and saw blue and white shredders visible from the clouds. NTSB investigators noted that videos and photos from the public depicted fog and low clouds covering the top of the hill.

In the days following the accident, NTSB board member Jennifer Homendy said a field knowledge system or TAWS would have provided Zobayan with more information, but did not say she could have prevented the fatal accident.

Sumwalt, however, said on Tuesday that the helicopter was not in controlled flight and, given that the pilot was disoriented, the terrain monitoring system would not have helped him.

The NTSB board made 13 findings, including that the pilot lost visual references in the clouds, made a bad decision to fly at excessive airspeed, and experienced spatial disorientation.

He also noted that the pilot decided to fly that morning, which was probably influenced by Kobe’s own pressure on his relationship with Bryant. Vice President Bruce Landsberg says the pilots look back on a long history of desperate attempts to meet the requirements of a star, citing previous accidents that killed music artists Buddy Holly, Patsy Cline, Aaliyah and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

The night before the accident, the broker who organized the flight voiced the pilot’s concern that “the weather could be an issue”. Zobayan assured the broker the next morning that he “should be fine,” according to text messages issued by the NTSB.

In its findings on Tuesday, the panel also said that Island Express, the helicopter operator, would have been helped by a fully implemented safety management system and that collision-resistant flight data recorders could have provided vital information.

However, investigators say none of the actions of air traffic controllers led to an accident and Island Express’s proposals to that effect were rejected. Island Express sued the FAA, claiming air traffic controllers were at fault in the crash.