Ara Zobayan, the pilot of the helicopter which crashed killing Kobe Bryant, his young daughter, and seven other people had probably become disorientated amid fog, the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators have said.
The helicopter smashed into a hillside near Calabasas, California, on January 26, 2020.
Ara Zobayan was among the dead.
Investigators also said the pilot may have felt “self-induced pressure” to complete the flight for Kobe Bryant.
The NTSB has been investigating the circumstances around the crash, and met on February 9 to vote on the probable cause. It is an independent federal agency with no enforcement powers.
In its official finding, the NTSB said the main cause of the crash was most likely the pilot’s decision to keep flying in inclement conditions, “which resulted in the pilot’s spatial disorientation and loss of control”.
During the flight, Ara Zobayan told air traffic controllers the helicopter was climbing out of heavy cloud when it was actually descending.
“This maneuver is consistent with the pilot experiencing spatial disorientation in limited visibility conditions,” said NTSB chairman Robert Sumwalt.
“We are talking about spatial disorientation where literally the pilot may not know which way is up or down, whether he or she is leaning left or right.”
The NTSB added that “inadequate review and oversight” of safety management processes by the helicopter charter company, Island Express, may have also contributed to the crash.
However, the board did not find that the Sikorsky S-76B had experienced any mechanical problems. The helicopter was not required to have “black box” recorders, which capture flight data and voices in the cockpit, and was not carrying any.
Ara Zobayan violated federal rules and went against his own flight training by flying into thick clouds, safety officials said.
The pilot “was flying under visual flight orders or VFR which legally prohibited him from penetrating the clouds”, but he did so anyway, said Robert Sumwalt.
Investigators also criticized the pilot for banking the helicopter to the left, instead of bringing the aircraft straight up while trying to escape the bad weather.
Ara Zobayan was an experienced pilot who had often flown for Kobe Bryant. The widely respected pilot had logged more than 1,200 hours in the Sikorsky-76 helicopter.
Disorientation can set in when pilots can’t see the sky or landscape, making it harder to judge an aircraft’s altitude and acceleration.
Investigators also said that the close relationship between Kobe Bryant and Ara Zobayan may have compelled the pilot to fly even in unsafe conditions.
In text messages on the eve of the crash released by the NTSB, Ara Zobayan wrote that the forecast seemed to be “not the best”. The next morning, the pilot wrote that the conditions were “looking ok”.
At the time of the crash, retired NBA legend Kobe Bryant, 41, was travelling to a youth basketball tournament with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, two of her teammates, and several other friends.
The fatal crash prompted a global outpouring of support for Kobe Bryant’s family – as well as a number of lawsuits.
Kobe Bryant’s wife, Vanessa Bryant, sued Ara Zobayan and the companies that owned and operated the helicopter for alleged negligence and wrongful death. Families of the other victims sued the helicopter companies – but not the pilot.
In September, Vanessa Bryant sued the LA County Sheriff’s Department after officers shared unauthorized photos of the crash site. California now has a state law prohibiting first responders from taking unauthorized pictures of people who died at the scene of an accident or crime.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board, the Amtrak train that derailed in Philadelphia, killing at least seven people, was travelling at twice the speed limit.
The driver applied the emergency brakes when the train hit 106mph on a 50mph track, said the NTSB.
His efforts had only brought the speed down to 102mph when the deadly crash happened.
The speed was recorded in the so-called black box recovered from the wreckage.
Robert Sumwalt of the NTSB told reporters a speed control system in place along parts of that route along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor was not yet in place on that section.
He said: “We feel that had such a system been installed in this section of track, this accident would not have occurred.”
Amtrak Train 188 was going from Washington to New York when it derailed on May 12, leaving more 200 people injured.
The death toll rose from six to seven on May 13, as another body was found by the search and rescue team.
Only three victims have been publicly identified so far. Jim Gaines, a 48-year-old father of two and software architect for the Associated Press, was travelling home to New Jersey following a work conference in Washington DC. Justin Zemser, a-20 year-old Navy Midshipman, was on leave from the Naval Academy in Maryland, and was visiting family in New York. Wells Fargo senior vice-president Abid Gilani, the company confirmed.
One of the busiest stretches of passenger rail in the country, between Philadelphia and New York, is closed as officials continue to try to establish exactly what happened.
President Barack Obama said he was “shocked and deeply saddened to hear of the derailment”.
As emergency crews continued to dig through the wreckage, lawmakers in Washington debated the future of Amtrak’s budget, with one spending committee voting to slash their funding by almost a fifth.
Congress has only 18 more days before federal funding for transportation infrastructure expires, but the funding is likely to be temporarily extended.
Amtrak is a national publicly funded rail service, serving tens of millions of people every year.
US authorities are investigating why Virgin Galactic’s space rocket crashed over California’s Mojave desert on a test flight.
One pilot died and the other was badly injured when SpaceShipTwo exploded shortly after take-off on October 31.
A National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) team arrived in Mojave on November 1 and was heading to the crash site.
Virgin Group founder Richard Branson said he was “determined to find out what went wrong” and learn from the tragedy.
The dead pilot was named as 39-year-old Michael Alsbury. The pilot who survived Friday’s crash has not been identified.
Speaking at the at the Mojave Air and Space Port, where the craft was being developed, Richard Branson said “nobody underestimates the risks involved in space travel”.
SpaceShipTwo was flying its first test flight for nine months when it crashed shortly after take-off near Bakersfield (photo EPA)
Virgin had hoped to launch commercially in 2015. It has already taken more than 700 flight bookings at $250,000 each, with Richard Branson pledging to travel on the first flight.
“We owe it to our test pilots to find out what went wrong, and once we find out, if we can overcome it, we will make sure that the dream lives on,” Richard Branson added.
Richard Branson said Virgin Galactic and its partners had “been undertaking a comprehensive testing program for many years and safety has always been our number one priority”.
A team of between 13 and 15 NTSB investigators – including specialists in structures, systems, engines and vehicle performance – arrived in Mojave on Saturday morning and would begin on-site work later in the day, NTSB acting chairman Christopher Hart said.
Their work would include detailed examination of all available data, work at the crash site and interviewing witnesses, Christopher Hart said.
“This was a test flight and test flights are typically very well documented in terms of data,” he added.
Wreckage from the crash is scattered across a large area of the Mojave desert, north-east of Los Angeles. Police secured the site amid fears that some of the debris could be explosive.
SpaceShipTwo was flying its first test flight for nine months when it crashed shortly after take-off near Bakersfield.
In a statement, the company said SpaceShipTwo experienced “a serious anomaly” after the craft separated from its launcher, an aircraft called WhiteKnightTwo.
WhiteKnightTwo landed safely.
It later emerged that the space craft was burning a new type of rocket fuel never before used in flight, although officials said it had undergone extensive ground testing.
American transportation safety regulators want to ban the use of mobile devices while driving, going so far as to say they should never be used in cars unless in case of emergency.
The National Transportation Board said Tuesday that states should ban all driver use of cell phones and other portable electronic devices, even including hands-free devices.
NTSB made the radical recommendation following a deadly highway pileup in Missouri last year when a 19-year-old pickup driver sent or received 11 texts in the 11 minutes immediately before the crash which killed him and a 15-year-old student.
The pickup, travelling at 55 miles per hour, collided into the back of a tractor truck before the pickup was rear-ended by a school bus that overrode the smaller vehicle, and a second school bus rammed into the back of the first bus.
NTSB made the radical recommendation following a deadly highway pileup in Missouri last year when a 19-year-old pickup driver sent or received 11 texts in the 11 minutes immediately before the crash which killed him and a 15-year-old student
The recommendation, unanimously agreed to by the five-member board, significantly exceeds any existing state laws restricting texting and cell phone use behind the wheel.
While the NTSB doesn’t have the power to impose restrictions, its recommendations carry significant weight with federal regulators and congressional and state lawmakers.
NTSB has previously recommended bans on texting and cell phone use by commercial truck and bus drivers and beginning drivers, but it has stopped short of calling for a ban on the use of the devices by adults behind the wheel of passenger cars.
The problem of texting while driving is getting worse despite a rush by states to ban the practice, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said last week. In November, Pennsylvania became the 35th state to forbid texting while driving.
About two out of 10 American drivers overall – and half of drivers between 21 and 24 – say they’ve thumbed messages or emailed from the driver’s seat, according to a survey of more than 6,000 drivers by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Even more, many drivers don’t think it’s dangerous when they do it – only when others do, the survey found.
At any given moment last year on US streets and highways, nearly 1 in every 100 car drivers was texting, emailing, surfing the Web or otherwise using a handheld electronic device, the safety administration said. And those activities spiked 50 per cent over the previous year.
Driver distraction wasn’t the only significant safety problem uncovered by NTSB’s investigation of the Missouri accident.
Investigators said they believe the pickup driver was suffering from fatigue that may have eroded his judgment at the time of the accident. He had an average of about five and a half hours of sleep a night in the days leading up to the accident and had had fewer than five hours of sleep the night before the accident, they said.
Regardless of the personal contributions to the accident, the fatal Missouri crash is a “big red flag for all drivers”, NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman said at a meeting to determine the cause of the accident and make safety recommendations.
It is not possible to know from cell phone records if the driver was typing, reaching for the phone or reading a text at the time of the crash, but it’s clear he was manually, cognitively and visually distracted, she said.
“Driving was not his only priority,” Deborah Hersman said.
“No call, no text, no update is worth a human life.”
Missouri had a law banning drivers under 21 years old from texting while driving at the time of the crash, but wasn’t aggressively enforcing the ban, board member Robert Sumwalt said.
“Without the enforcement, the laws don’t mean a whole lot,” Robert Sumwalt said.
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