Tuesday August 3rd, 2021 10:44PM

Kobe Bryant crash pilot disoriented in clouds, agency says

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

LOS ANGELES (AP) — U.S. safety investigators said Tuesday the pilot of Kobe Bryant’s helicopter flew through the clouds last year in an apparent violation of federal standards, and likely became disoriented just before the helicopter crashed and killed Bryant and eight others.

Robert Sumwalt, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said that pilot Ara Zobayan was flying under visual flight rules, which meant that he needed to be able to see where he was going.

Zobayan piloted the aircraft to climb sharply and had nearly broken through the clouds when the Sikorsky S-76 helicopter banked abruptly and plunged into the Southern California hills below, killing all aboard.

The helicopter did not have the so-called “black box” recording devices, which were not required.

The revelation during a hearing to announce the probable cause or causes of the crash followed plenty of finger-pointing.

Bryant’s widow blamed the pilot. She and relatives of the other victims also faulted the companies that owned and operated the helicopter.

The brother of the pilot didn’t blame Bryant but said he knew about the risks of flying. The helicopter companies said foggy weather before the helicopter hit the ground was an act of God and blamed air traffic controllers.

The federal hearing focused on the long-awaited probable cause or causes of the tragedy that unleashed worldwide grief for the retired basketball star, launched several lawsuits and prompted state and federal legislation.

“I think the whole world is watching because it’s Kobe,” said Ed Coleman, an Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University professor and aircraft safety science expert.

Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and six other passengers were flying from Orange County to a youth basketball tournament at his Mamba Sports Academy in Ventura County on Jan. 26, 2020, when the helicopter encountered thick fog in the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles.

Pilot Ara Zobayan climbed sharply and nearly broke through the clouds when the Sikorsky S-76 helicopter banked abruptly and plunged into the Calabasas hills below, killing all nine aboard instantly before flames engulfed the wreckage.

There was no sign of mechanical failure and the crash was believed to be an accident, the National Transportation Safety Board has said previously.

The board on Tuesday is likely to make nonbinding recommendations to prevent future crashes when it meets remotely and announces its findings about the crash.

The NTSB is an independent federal agency that investigates transportation-related crashes but has no enforcement powers.

It submits suggestions to agencies like the Federal Aviation Administration or the Coast Guard, which have repeatedly rejected some board safety recommendations after other disasters.

One possible recommendation following the investigation into the crash that killed Bryant could be for helicopters to have Terrain Awareness and Warning Systems, devices that signal when aircraft are in danger of crashing.

The helicopter Bryant was flying in did not have the system, which the NTSB has recommended as mandatory for helicopters. The FAA requires it only for air ambulances.

Federal lawmakers have sponsored the Kobe Bryant and Gianna Bryant Helicopter Safety Act to mandate the devices on all helicopters carrying six or more passengers.

Former NTSB Chairman James Hall said he hopes the FAA will require the systems as a result of the crash.

“Historically, it has required high-profile tragedies to move the regulatory needle forward,” he said.

The devices, known as TAWS, cost upward of $35,000 per helicopter and require training and maintenance.

Helicopter Association International, which represents the helicopter industry, discouraged what it called a “one solution fits all” method.

President and CEO James Viola said in a statement that mandating specific equipment for the entire industry would be “ineffective” and “potentially hazardous.”

Even though Zobayan was flying at low altitude in a hilly area, the warning system may not have prevented the crash, Coleman said.

The rugged terrain could have triggered the alarm "constantly going off” and distracted the pilot or prompted him to lower the alarm's volume or ignore it, the Embry-Riddle safety science professor said.

Federal investigators said Zobayan, an experienced pilot who often flew Bryant, may have “misperceived” the angles at which he was descending and banking, which can occur when pilots become disoriented in low visibility, according to NTSB documents.

The others killed in the crash were Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife, Keri, and their daughter Alyssa; Christina Mauser, who helped Bryant coach his daughter’s basketball team; and Sarah Chester and her daughter Payton. Alyssa and Payton were Gianna’s teammates.

The crash has generated lawsuits and countersuits.

On the day that a massive memorial service was held at the Staples Center, where Bryant played most of his career, Vanessa Bryant sued Zobayan and the companies that owned and operated the helicopter for alleged negligence and the wrongful deaths of her husband and daughter. Families of other victims sued the helicopter companies but not the pilot.

Vanessa Bryant said Island Express Helicopters Inc., which operated the aircraft, and its owner, Island Express Holding Corp., did not properly train or supervise Zobayan. She said the pilot was careless and negligent to fly in fog and should have aborted the flight.

Zobayan’s brother, Berge Zobayan, has said Kobe Bryant knew the risks of flying in a helicopter and that his survivors aren’t entitled to damages from the pilot’s estate. Island Express Helicopters Inc. denied responsibility and said the crash was “an act of God” that it could not control.

The company also countersued two FAA air traffic controllers, saying the crash was caused by their “series of erroneous acts and/or omissions.”

The countersuit claims one controller improperly denied Zobayan’s request for “flight following,” or radar assistance, as he proceeded in the fog. Officials have said the controller terminated service because radar could not be maintained at the altitude the aircraft was flying.

According to the lawsuit, the controller said he was going to lose radar and communications shortly, but radar contact was not lost.

When a second controller took over, the lawsuit said, the first controller failed to brief him about the helicopter, and because the radar services were not terminated correctly, the pilot believed he was being tracked.

Vanessa Bryant also sued the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, accusing deputies of sharing unauthorized photos of the crash site. California now has a state law prohibiting such conduct.


Associated Press writers David Koenig in Dallas and Tom Krisher in Detroit contributed.

  • Associated Categories: U.S. News, Associated Press (AP), AP Sports, AP Online Basketball, AP National News, AP Online National News, AP Entertainment, APOnline Celebrity News, AP Business, AP Business - Corporate News
© Copyright 2021
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Trump's 2nd trial to start with fight over its legitimacy
Donald Trump’s historic second impeachment trial begins Tuesday in the Senate
10:23AM ( 2 minutes ago )
Kobe Bryant crash pilot disoriented in clouds, agency says
Safety investigators say the pilot of Kobe Bryant’s helicopter flew through the clouds in an apparent violation of federal standards, and likely became disoriented
10:19AM ( 6 minutes ago )
Palm Beach to decide whether Trump can stay at Mar-a-Lago
The Palm Beach Town Council is about to consider whether former President Donald Trump can live at his Mar-a-Lago club
10:14AM ( 11 minutes ago )
U.S. News
Portugal poised to extend lockdown as COVID-19 cases fall
Portugal’s COVID-19 infection rate has dropped sharply after a lockdown aimed at addressing a devastating January pandemic surge
10:15AM ( 11 minutes ago )
Heavy snow creates severe traffic disruptions in Germany
Heavy snow in parts of Germany has led to severe traffic disruptions as cars and trucks got stuck on highways for hours and more train connections were canceled
10:00AM ( 25 minutes ago )
Holocaust scholars ordered to apologize in Polish libel case
A court in Warsaw has ruled that two prominent Holocaust researchers must apologize to a woman who claimed her deceased uncle had been slandered in a historical work in which it is suggested he helped kill Jews during World War II
9:52AM ( 33 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Tokyo Olympics face another problem because of its president
The postponed Tokyo Olympics have yet another problem besides the pandemic
6:39AM ( 3 hours ago )
2-time Olympic champion Ted Ligety to retire after worlds
Two-time Olympic champion Ted Ligety says he will retire from World Cup ski racing after the world championships
6:00AM ( 4 hours ago )
Nadal, Barty advance in straight sets at Australia Open
Rafael Nadal showed no signs of a back problem that hampered his preparation for the Australian Open
5:20AM ( 5 hours ago )
AP Sports
Young's 18 points help No. 4 Ohio State top Maryland 73-65
Kyle Young and Duane Washington Jr. each scored 18 points, and No. 4 Ohio State used a relentless defensive effort to wear down Maryland in a 73-65 victory
12:14AM ( 10 hours ago )
Bueckers leads No. 2 UConn over No. 1 South Carolina in OT
Paige Bueckers scored 31 points, including her team’s final 13, to lead No. 2 UConn to a 63-59 overtime win over top-ranked South Carolina
11:29PM ( 10 hours ago )
South Carolina returns to top of women's basketball poll
South Carolina is back where the Gamecocks started the season — at No. 1 in The Associated Press women’s college basketball poll
9:15PM ( 13 hours ago )
AP Online Basketball
Leonardo's 'Last Supper' reopens to public with short wait
COVID-19 restrictions have brought a novelty to art lovers: the possibility of seeing Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper” without waiting in line, and with same-day tickets possible
8:12AM ( 2 hours ago )
Mary Wilson, longest-reigning original Supreme, dies at 76
Mary Wilson, the longest-reigning original Supreme, has died at 76 years old
7:20AM ( 3 hours ago )
Mystery metal monolith vanishes from ancient Turkish site
A mysterious metal monolith has disappeared four days after it was discovered
6:41AM ( 3 hours ago )
AP Entertainment
Amazon, Cadillac score with Super Bowl ads
During this year’s Super Bowl, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers reigned supreme on the field
10:45PM ( 1 day ago )
Three Saudi youths get prison sentence instead of death
Saudi Arabia's Human Rights Commission says three young men who faced death sentences for acts they were accused of committing as minors have been handed a 10-year prison sentence instead
2:55PM ( 1 day ago )
Former heavyweight champion Leon Spinks dies at 67
Former heavyweight champion Leon Spinks has died after battling prostate and other cancers
2:27AM ( 2 days ago )
APOnline Celebrity News
Fear and love surround Escobar's hippos thriving in Colombia
The offspring of hippos illegally imported to Colombia by drug kingpin Pablo Escobar in the 1980s are flourishing in the lush area and experts are warning about the dangers of the growing numbers
8:58AM ( 1 hour ago )
The Latest: WHO team: Coronavirus likely jumped to humans
A World Health Organization team has concluded that the coronavirus most likely jumped to humans from an animal
8:55AM ( 1 hour ago )
Rescuers look for survivors of Indian glacier disaster
Hundreds of rescue workers are scouring muck-filled ravines and valleys in northern India for survivors after part of a Himalayan glacier broke off, sending a devastating flood downriver that left at least 31 people dead and 165 missing
7:20AM ( 3 hours ago )
AP Business
Businesses start to rethink Myanmar as coup ignites protests
Businesses are just beginning to reassess their investments in Myanmar after the military seized power, detaining civilian leaders and sparking mass protests
7:01AM ( 3 hours ago )
WHO says coronavirus unlikely to have leaked from China lab
A World Health Organization expert says the coronavirus is unlikely to have leaked from a Chinese lab and is more likely to have jumped to humans from an animal
6:41AM ( 3 hours ago )
Nissan stays in red ink amid pandemic, Japan criminal trial
Japanese automaker Nissan has reported losses for the fiscal third quarter, as its sales were hit by the coronavirus pandemic and its brand image continued to take a beating from a high-profile Tokyo trial
4:20AM ( 6 hours ago )
AP Business - Corporate News
Trump's 2nd trial to start with fight over its legitimacy
Donald Trump’s historic second impeachment trial begins Tuesday in the Senate
10:23AM ( 2 minutes ago )
Palm Beach to decide whether Trump can stay at Mar-a-Lago
The Palm Beach Town Council is about to consider whether former President Donald Trump can live at his Mar-a-Lago club
10:14AM ( 11 minutes ago )
Likely causes of Kobe Bryant helicopter crash to be revealed
Federal safety officials are expected to reveal what are the likely causes of the helicopter crash last year that killed Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter and seven others in Southern California
9:29AM ( 57 minutes ago )
Trump's 2nd trial to start with challenge to its legitimacy
Donald Trump’s historic second impeachment trial is an undertaking like no other in U.S. history
8:27AM ( 1 hour ago )
Anthony Sowell, Ohio man who killed 11 women, dies in prison
An Ohio man sentenced to death for killing 11 women and hiding their remains in and around his home has died in prison
7:12AM ( 3 hours ago )