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.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva has
said eight deputies have admitted possessing photos of Kobe Bryant’s helicopter
The sheriff said he was “devastated and heartbroken” by the
conduct of those responsible.
He told media on March 2 that the deputies involved had deleted the images
on his direction.
Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were among nine who died in
the crash on January 26.
The basketball legend was a
five-time NBA champion for his only team, the Los Angeles Lakers, and a double
Olympic gold medalist. After a 20-year career with the team Kobe Bryant retired
in April 2016.
The circulation of photos from the crash site and victims’ remains was first
reported by the Los Angeles Times
In response to the report, Vanessa Bryant, Kobe’s wife, said she was
“absolutely devastated” by the “inexcusable and deplorable”
actions of first responders.
A lawyer for Vanessa Bryant said Alex Villanueva had assured her that
“all measures would be put in place to protect the families’
The lawyer’s statement said: “This
is an unspeakable violation of human decency, respect, and of the privacy
rights of the victims and their families.
“We are demanding that those
responsible for these alleged actions face the harshest possible discipline,
and that their identities be brought to light, to ensure that the photos are
not further disseminated.”
In an interview with NBC News, Sheriff Villanueva said the photos were
brought to his attention by someone who had overheard a trainee deputy
discussing them at a bar.
He said: “That was my number one
priority, to make sure those photos no longer exist.
“We identified the deputies
involved, they came to the station on their own and had admitted they had taken
them and they had deleted them. And we’re content that those involved did
He also told KABC-TV that the deputies were under investigation and could
face disciplinary action.
Only personnel from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the
coroner’s office were authorized to take photos of the crash scene, Alex
According to NBC News, at least two LA County Fire Department firefighters
also took photos and were ordered to delete them.
The cause of the crash in foggy
weather west of Los Angeles, California, is still being investigated.
Kobe Bryant was on his way to coach
his daughter Gianna’s basketball team in a local youth tournament at the Mamba
Lawyers for Vanessa Bryant have filed a lawsuit against the company that operated the helicopter, accusing the pilot of negligence.
Vanessa Bryant, the widow of NBA legend Kobe
Bryant, is suing the owner of the helicopter that crashed last month, killing
her husband and 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.
Kobe Bryant, Gianna and seven others died when the helicopter they were in
crashed in fog on January 26.
In the lawsuit, Vanessa Bryant says the pilot was negligent for flying in
such poor weather.
The lawsuit was filed shortly before a memorial service held in Los Angeles.
It says that Island Express Helicopters and the pilot, Ara George Zobayan,
had a “duty to use that degree of care that an ordinarily careful and
prudent pilot would use under the same or similar circumstances”.
The lawsuit alleges that the pilot – who died in the crash – did not assess
weather data before taking off.
It also says the pilot did not abort the flight despite the treacherous
Island Express Helicopters authorized the flight “with full knowledge
that the subject helicopter was flying into unsafe weather conditions”,
the complaint says.
Vanessa Bryant is seeking undisclosed compensatory and punitive damages.
The company has suspended operations.
The aircraft – a Sikorsky S-76B – went down into a hillside outside the city
Conditions were foggy when the flight took off, and local police had
grounded their helicopters due to the poor weather.
The pilot asked air traffic controllers for a special clearance, known as
Special Visual Flight Rules, to fly in less than optimal weather, said NTSB
board member Jennifer Homendy, who went to the crash scene to collect evidence.
The helicopter, she added, circled in the air for 12 minutes before being
given the clearance. The pilot then asked controllers for “flight
following”, an assistance given to helicopters to avoid collisions, but
was told the craft was too low to be picked up by radar.
Minutes later, the pilot said he was “climbing to avoid a cloud
layer”, she added. The helicopter climbed and began a left descending
turn, according to radar data, before communication was lost. All those on
board were killed.
Kobe and Gianna Bryant were remembered in a “Celebration of Life”
memorial at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on February 24.
Beyoncé opened the service with her 2013 hit XO, which she said was one of Kobe Bryant’s favorite songs.
Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Bryant’s former teammate Shaquille O’Neal
were among those attending.
The Staples Center was Kobe Bryant’s home arena for much of his 20-season
career with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Speaking at the event, Vanessa Bryant said of her husband: “He was mine. He was my everything,”
and called her daughter Gianna an “amazingly sweet and gentle
soul” whose smile took up her entire face.
Island Express Helicopters was limited to operating when the pilot was able to see clearly while flying.
There has been no word yet on funeral arrangements.
The cause of the crash in foggy weather west of Los Angeles is still being
Kobe Bryant, 41, was on his way to coach his daughter’s basketball team in a
local youth tournament at the Mamba Sports Academy.
In the Instagram post, Vanessa Bryant also said: “We are completely devastated by the sudden loss of my adoring
husband, Kobe – the amazing father of our children; and my beautiful, sweet
Gianna – a loving, thoughtful, and wonderful daughter, and amazing sister to
Natalia, Bianka, and Capri.”
The devastated wife added: “I
wish they were here with us forever. They were our beautiful blessings taken
from us too soon. I’m not sure what our lives hold beyond today, and it’s
impossible to imagine life without them.”
Vanessa Bryant also thanked for the public support, and announced the formation
of a fund to help support the other families that were affected by the crash,
the Mamba Sports Foundation.
The other victims included the pilot, two other 13-year-old girls involved
in the tournament, three of their parents and another coach.
Kobe Bryant was a five-time NBA champion for his only team,
the Los Angeles Lakers, and a double Olympic gold medalist.
After a 20-year career with the team Kobe Bryant retired in April 2016.
Vanessa Bryant has denied that she has been under the surgeon’s knife after reports suggested she had sought cosmetic help to stop philandering husband Kobe from straying.
Vanessa Bryant’s representatives have blasted the allegations as “100 per cent not true” and “ridiculous”.
During her appearance at the London Olympic Games, Vanessa Bryant, 30, set tongues wagging that she had undergone surgery after pictures of her looking rather different from her former self emerged.
A source told The National Enquirer that Vanessa Bryant was starting to feel “insecure” about her looks and “would do anything to keep Kobe happy”.
Not only had she made obvious changes to her hair, which once bared blonde highlights and is now raven black, but her skin tone, pout, brow and tip of the nose appeared to belong to someone else.
Vanessa Bryant denies having plastic surgery after reports claimed she had sought cosmetic help to stop philandering husband Kobe from straying
Plastic surgeon Dr. Anthony Youn offered his expertise to the US publication, saying: “Vanessa appears to have undergone some plastic surgery.
“Her nose is thin with what appears to be scars at the base of each nostril. In some people, this is a telltale sign of a nose job.”
The medical professional – who practices in Troy, Michigan – also stated that Vanessa Bryant’s lips look to have been plumped, “possibly from an injectable filler like Juvederm”.
Following Kobe Bryant’s rumored reputation of playing away from home, including an admission to one particular infidelity in 2003 and pictures of him shirtless with two women during a recent nightclub venture, Vanessa is said to be “obsessed” with her looks in a bid to stay young and youthful for her husband of 11 years.
A source told the Enquirer: “The sad thing is that Vanessa is wrecking her natural beauty.
“She started freaking out over a few crow’s feet, and the next thing you know she was getting a full facial makeover… she is extremely insecure.
“She’d do anything to keep Kobe happy.”
The on/off couple has had a somewhat turbulent romance over the years and was on the verge of divorce just two months ago.
But during the London Olympics, they appeared to have reconciled and were seen laughing in the stands during a swimming final with their six-year-old daughter Gianna.
However, Australian Olympic gold medalist Stephanie Rice was still forced to deny she was having a fling with Kobe Bryant after they were seen during a cycling event together.
Vanessa Bryant, wife of superstar basketball player Kobe Bryant, appears to be having second thoughts on going ahead with their divorce.
Vanessa Bryant, 29, has until Sunday to sign the documents to make her divorce from the philandering LA Lakers star final.
But according to reports, Vanessa Bryant just can’t bring herself to leave the father of her two children.
According to TMZ, Kobe Bryant, 33, and his ex-wife have been spending a lot of time together in mediation, working out the problems that caused Vanessa to file for divorce in the first place back on December 16.
“We’ve learned Kobe and Vanessa are trying to work out the issues that caused her to file for divorce back in December.
“They spend a lot of time together but he has not officially moved back in with her,” a source told TMZ.
Vanessa and Kobe Bryant at a hockey game in Los Angeles on April 16
California law gives couples a six-month “waiting period” after divorce proceedings are initiated before it can be finalized.
That means the waiting period expires Sunday and Vanessa Bryant would officially be free to divorce the NBA star Monday.
However, that is unlikely, the report said. There would be nothing to stop her from doing so at a later date, though.
Kobe Bryant married Vanessa in April 2001 in Dana Point, California, when he was 21 and she was 18. They have two daughters, Natalia and Gianna. The marriage became rocky soon after when Kobe was arrested for a sexual assault on a 19-year-old employee of an Eagle, Colorado hotel. The case was eventually dropped, but Kobe Bryant admitted he did have an adulterous sexual encounter with his accuser.
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