The pilot’s “disorientation” may have caused a helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, NTSB claims

The helicopter pilot’s “spatial disorientation” played a key role in the crash that killed basketball legend, daughter and several friends of Kobe Bryant last year, federal officials said Tuesday.

41-year-old Los Angeles Lakers icon 13-year-old Gianna Bryant and seven other people died on a cloudy morning off the south coast of California on the morning of Jan. 26 when their Sikorsky S-76B helicopter crashed into a hillside in Calabasas, shocking the sports and basketball worlds.

In the crash, 13-year-old Payton Chester also killed Sarah Chester, 45; Alyssa Altobelli, 14; Keri Altobelli, 46; John Altobelli, 56; Christina Mauser, 38; and Ara Zobayan, 50 years old.

Zobayan was the chief pilot of Island Express helicopters, with 8,500 hours of flight experience and about 10 years of flight experience in the area where the vessel crashed, the National Transportation Safety Board said at a hearing outlining the likely cause of the accident.

The pilot probably had an episode of “spatial diversion” that NTSB president Robert Sumwalt said “powerful, misleading feelings can confuse a visual flight pilot who loses visual references and what type of training can be effective in counteracting this. the effect. “

“Unfortunately, we’ve seen this accident before,” said Michael Graham, a board member. “Helicopters will continue to fly under VFR (Visual Flight Rules) in meteorological conditions and will unfortunately lose control of the aircraft due to spatial disorientation.”

The previous owner of the Sikorsky S-76B operated it regularly with two pilots, the president said.

While there was no mandate for Island Express helicopters to use two pilots, Sumwalt insisted that two trained eye kits could change.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Sumwalt even concluded his own detective, who underestimated the two pilots’ suggestions, saying he saw plenty of “spatial disorientation” accidents in which a pair of aircraft were in control.

“I don’t agree with that,” said Sumwalt, who was a long-haul pilot for US Airways before joining the NTSB.

“I think two pilots would increase the level of safety. I flew with two pilots for a long time and in an airline environment it became superfluous that if one pilot fights, the other pilot can sit back and say, ‘Wait a minute, move 30 degrees to the left and start to descend. “

As Zobayan met the sea layer that morning, the pilot appeared to be flying in the fog in violation of federal guidelines, the NTSB said.

The pilot should have avoided “adverse weather” and “helicopter diversion, return to base, or landing,” Graham said.

“And unfortunately the pilot didn’t do that,” Graham added.

The Island Express helicopter lawyer was unable to speak immediately on Tuesday.

It is also assumed that Zobayan “put himself under pressure” to complete the journey because he had had a relationship with Bryant for a long time.

Investigators say there is no evidence that Bryant or anyone else at the travel party put pressure on Zobayan that Sunday morning to finish the journey quickly.