Investigators denounce pilot in Kobe Bryant crash for flying in the clouds

Feb 09, 2021 Travel News

Investigators denounce pilot in Kobe Bryant crash for flying in the clouds

The helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and eight others in Southern California last year was likely caused by the pilot’s decision to fly in the clouds in violation of federal rules, blinding him over his surroundings and causing him to lose control of the helicopter as he became disoriented, investigators said Tuesday.

Mr. Bryant, the retired Los Angeles Lakers basketball star, was killed on January 26, 2020, when the helicopter crashed into a foggy hill near Calabasas, Calif., Exploding into flames. Everyone on board has died, including the pilot, Mr Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna, two teenagers who were on his basketball team, some of the children’s parents and an assistant coach.

The National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday released 13 findings after a year-long investigation, concluding that the pilot, Ara Zobayan, had lost his bearings and made a “bad decision” to fly at excessive speeds in bad weather. Mr Zobayan’s choices were likely influenced by his “self-induced pressure” to complete the trip, according to the board, which also criticized what he called a lack of review and oversight of the part of its charter company, Island Express Helicopters.

Robert L. Sumwalt, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said Mr. Zobayan was operating under rules that prohibited him from flying in clouds, but had nevertheless tried to “crash” above the clouds afterwards. have encountered poor visibility. . Mr. Zobayan became so disoriented, investigators found, that when he told air traffic controllers he was trying to climb, he would turn left and begin a rapid descent.

The close relationship between Mr Bryant and Mr Zobayan, who had flown the basketball star and his children on several occasions, may have made the pilot more anxious to complete the flight, investigators said, but they did not ‘found no indication that Mr. Bryant, the charter company or anyone else pressured him to do so. Mr Zobayan was an experienced pilot who would not have to navigate dangerous roads, colleagues said. Still, investigators found he had made several mistakes in the minutes and hours leading up to the crash.

“This weather did not bother the pilot,” Bill English, the lead investigator of the case, told council members, noting that the pilot had “the very easy alternative” of deciding that the weather was too much. bad to continue and land at an airport a few minutes away.

Once disoriented, the pilot apparently did not refer to, understand or trust his instruments, investigators said. The helicopter did not have, and was not required to have, a “black box” that would have recorded data, images and sound from the cockpit that could have facilitated the investigation.

The five members of the safety committee spent several hours in the live meeting asking questions of investigators who had spent the last year inspecting the destroyed helicopter, interviewing members of the charter company and reflecting on it. which could stop future fatal accidents. The board said there were 184 fatal plane crashes between 2010 and 2019 in which a disoriented pilot was a factor, including 20 helicopter crashes.

Council members recommended that Island Express install flight data monitoring devices in its helicopters and said an expert panel should be convened to evaluate simulation devices that could help train pilots to fly. spatial disorientation. The agency also reiterated several recommendations it had previously made to the Federal Aviation Administration but which it said had not been implemented.

The National Transportation Safety Board said shortly after the accident that there was no clear sign of a major engine failure, which gave more credence to the theory that Mr. Zobayan had become disoriented in the fog. thick. He had written in a text message the night before the crash that the forecast did not seem “the best,” but after waking up in the morning, he wrote that “it was okay”, according to messages posted last summer by the agency.

Mr. Zobayan had requested special clearance to fly over areas of low visibility. He was a well-respected pilot who had accumulated over 1,200 hours in the S-76 helicopter and was certified to fly his instruments in low visibility. But the certification the Federal Aviation Administration issued to Island Express Helicopters only allowed its pilots to fly visually, meaning they had to have at least half a mile of daytime visibility and be able to see the ground.

Seconds before crashing, according to the preliminary report from the security bureau, Zobayan told a flight controller he was trying to climb to 4,000 feet in an attempt to pass above the clouds, but the helicopter was actually falling. The helicopter crashed at 9.45 a.m., approximately 39 minutes after taking off from John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana.

Mr Bryant, who won five NBA championships and two Olympic gold medals, had in recent years found joy in coaching Gianna, who passed through Gigi and was the second eldest of Mr Bryant’s four daughters with her wife, Vanessa. Their helicopter was heading for the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, northwest of Los Angeles, which was renamed after Mr. Bryant when he partnered with the academy in 2018. Gianna’s team , which Bryant helped train, was scheduled to compete. in a basketball tournament that day called the Mamba Cup.