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Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Helicopter pilot in Kobe Bryant crash was disoriented by clouds avoiding fog, investigators find

The helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gigi, crashed on Jan. 26, 2020.
The helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gigi, crashed on Jan. 26, 2020.
Illustration: Getty Images

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) today said the pilot in the helicopter crash that killed Kobe and Gigi Bryant and six other passengers violated federal rules by flying into clouds, where the pilot became disoriented in the air.

All nine passengers on board, including the pilot, Ara Zobayan, were killed on impact.

NTSB chairman Robert Sumwalt said Zobayan disregarded rules that barred pilots from traveling through the clouds. And according to investigators, Zobayan indicated he was trying to fly above the fog and to finish the flight. Instead, he fell quickly through the sky, leaving the NTSB to conclude he was disoriented in the air.

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In the virtual NTSB live stream, one investigator described how a pilot’s inner ear could give a “false sense of orientation,” in foggy skies.

Zobayan was a friend of Byant’s and flew the former basketball star and his family often.

The night before the flight Zobayan texted, “not the best day tomorrow, but it is not as bad as today” to the charter service that managed Bryant’s helicopter travel. Hours before the crash, however, Zobayan texted “weather looking OK,” according to previous NTSB findings.

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But today, the board found there was “no evidence that Island Express, the air charter broker or the client (Kobe Bryant) placed pressure on the pilot to accept” or finish the flight.

 

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Bryant and the other passengers on board were flying from Orange County on their way to a youth basketball tournament at Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, California.

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