Kobe Bryant crash blamed on helicopter pilot Ara Zobayan’s decision to fly in fog when he 'didn't know which way was up'

THE Kobe Bryant helicopter crash has been blamed on the helicopter pilot's decision to fly in the fog when he "didn't know which way was up."

The chopper carrying the NBA legend, his 13-year-old daughter and seven others went down on January 26, 2020, in the California city of Calabasas.

The National Transportation Safety Board determined the probable cause of death during a hearing just before 1pm ET on Tuesday.

"The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause in this accident was the pilot's decision to continue flight under visual flight rules into instrument meteorological conditions which resulted in the pilot's spatial disorientation and loss of control," the board confirmed.

"Contributing to the accident was the pilot's likely self-induced pressure and his plan continuation bias which adversely affected his decision-making and Island Express Helicopters Inc.'s adequate review of the safety and processes."

​Honorable Michael Graham, a member of the board, also said that the pilot "did not follow his training," which he said made him "concerned as a fellow aviator."

It was later discussed that the pilot, Ara Zobayan, flew into the clouds when he was "legally prohibited" to do so.

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 hills below, killing all 9 aboard.

The pilot told air traffic controllers that his helicopter was climbing out of heavy clouds when in fact it was descending immediately before slamming into a hillside near the town of Calabasas, the agency said in June.

NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said the pilot was "flying under visual flight orders or VFR which legally prohibited him from penetrating the clouds" but he continued into clouds.

Investigator-in-charge Bill English added that the hilly terrain and the disorientation caused by the clouds would have been a "confusing factor."

"The pilot doesn't know which way is up," English said.

The agency also discussed the possibility the pilot's decisions were clouded by "self-induced pressure" because of the celebrity status of the NBA legend.

Investigator Bill English added that "this would not have been a difficult flight."

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

During the hearing, the board confirmed that there was no pressure on the pilot to drive Bryant and Gianna during the bad weather.

"There was no evidence that Island Express, the air charter broker or the client [Kobe Bryant] placed pressure on the pilot to accept the charter flight request or complete the flight and adverse weather," they said.

Vice Chairman of the NTSB Bruce Landsberg also said that the incident was not an accident, but instead was a "crash."

He reasoned his choice of word by saying that an accident is unpreventable.

The vice chairman added that pilots "know how to prevent these type of crashes."

In June 2020, approximately five months after the fatal crash, federal investigators said pilot Zobayan was likely disoriented by fog.

Pilot Zobayan told air traffic controllers that the helicopter was climbing its way out of a cloud cover – even though, in reality, the helicopter was rapidly hurtling to the ground, federal investigators said.

The chopper ultimately crashed into a hillside.

According to last year's findings, which total approximately 1,700 pages, the NTSB wrote that pilots who cannot see their surrounding sky or landscape can suffer from "spatial disorientation."

"Without outside references or attention to the helicopters attitude display, the actual pitch and bank angles have the potential to be misperceived," the NTSB stated.

Also in 2020, the NTSB ruled out "catastrophic mechanical failure" as a cause of the crash.

At the time of the ruling, evidence showed the helicopter had increased its speed, made a sharp left turn, and then began falling, even though Zobayan had just radioed that he was climbing to 4,000 feet in order to get above the dense cloud layer.

“Calculated apparent angles at this time show that the pilot could have misperceived both pitch and roll angles,” one report stated, according to The Associated Press.

All nine people aboard the helicopter were killed: Bryant and his daughter Gianna; Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife, Keri, and their daughter Alyssa; Christina Mauser, who was affiliated with Gianna's team; Sarah Chester and her daughter Payton; and Zobayan himself.

Gianna, Alyssa, and Payton were teammates on their way to a tournament.

Bryant's wife, Vanessa, recently said she sometimes "doesn't feel like being alive" as the anniversary approaches of her husband's death.

The pair met in 1999 on the set of a music video while Vanessa was working as a model.

They became engaged after six months and got married in 2001.

Alongside Gianna, the couple shared daughters Natalia, now 17, Bianka, now four, and Capri, now one.

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