Federal Investigators to Name Like Cause of Kobe Bryant Helicopter Crash – NBC Los Angeles

on Feb9
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The pilot in the January 2020 helicopter disaster that killed nine people, including Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, appeared to violate federal flight standards when he flew through clouds northwest of Los Angeles before crashing on a hillside, federal safety investigators say.

Investigators are expected to announce a likely cause of the crash later Tuesday morning, but much of the NTSB’s discussion so far has focused on the pilot’s actions and weather conditions. The pilot likely suffered spatial disorientation as he tried to navigate through the clouds above hillside terrain on the flight from Orange County to Camarillo, the NTSB said.

The crash on a foggy morning northwest of Los Angeles led to worldwide grief for the retired basketball star, launched several lawsuits and prompted state and federal legislation. 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 crashed on a hillside.

Federal safety officials discuss the likely causes of the January 2020 helicopter crash that killed nine people, including Kobe Bryant.

Pilot Ara Zobaya climbed sharply and had nearly broken 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.

During Tuesday’s hearing, investigators said the pilot appeared to violate flight standards and likely became disoriented in the clouds. Zobaya was flying under visual flight rules, which means he needed to be able to see where he was going, investigators said.

“We have seen this accident before, unfortunately,” said board member Michael Graham. “Helicopters continue the VFR flight into meteorological conditions and unfortunately lose control of the aircraft due to spatial disorientation.”

Robert L. Sumwalt, the board chairman, said the NTSB’s discussion was “at the juncture of ‘human’ and ‘environment.'”

“He was flying under visual flight rules (VFR), which legally prohibited him from penetrating clouds,” Sumwalt said. “However, he continued this VFR flight through the clouds, into instrument meteorological conditions.”

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

The helicopter’s previous owner regularly operated it with two pilots, the chairman said. There was no mandate for Island Express Helicopters to have two pilots, but Sumwalt said that two sets of trained eyes might have prevented the tragedy.

A lawyer for Island Express Helicopters could not be immediately reached for comment on Tuesday.

There was no sign of mechanical failure, and it was believed to be an accident, the National Transportation Safety Board has said. The board is likely to make nonbinding recommendations to prevent future crashes when it meets remotely Tuesday.

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 a pilot becomes disoriented in low visibility, according to NTSB documents.

Investigators discussed whether Zobayan placed himself under self-induced pressure to complete the journey because of his longtime relationship with Bryant. Investigators said there was no evidence that Bryant or anyone else pressured Zobayan to finish the trip in the face of adverse weather.

The NTSB is an independent federal agency that investigates crashes but has no enforcement powers. It can only submit suggestions to bodies like the Federal Aviation Administration or the Coast Guard, which have repeatedly rejected some of the board’s safety recommendations after other disasters.

One recommendation could be for helicopters to have a Terrain Awareness and Warning System, a device that signals when an aircraft is in danger of crashing. The helicopter didn’t have the system, which the NTSB has recommended as mandatory for helicopters. The FAA only requires it for air ambulances.

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

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.

Pictures: These are the Victims in the Kobe Bryant Helicopter Crash

The crash killed a group of people brought together by a love of sports. They included 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.

In the year since the helicopter crash, there’s been plenty of finger-pointing over the cause of the tragedy.

Bryant’s widow blamed the pilot. She and families of 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 the risks of flying. The helicopter companies said the weather was an act of God and blamed air traffic controllers.

Tony Altobelli remembered the day when his brother, sister-in-law and niece died in the helicopter crash. Vikki Vargas reported on NBC4 News on Monday, Jan. 25, 2021.

On the day 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 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 said Kobe Bryant knew the risks of flying in a helicopter and 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” it couldn’t control.

It 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 couldn’t 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 was under the belief he was being tracked.

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

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