Pilot Ara Zobayan, who also died, ignored his training and flew into clouds, and therefore violated laws.
It has been more than a year since NBA legend Kobe Bryant passed away after a helicopter crash, and it has now been found that the pilot was partially at fault. Bryant, his young daughter Gianna, and seven others died in the crash in California on January 26, 2020, after the pilot reportedly became disoriented amid fog, said the US safety investigators.
Pilot Ara Zobayan also died in Calabasas in the crash. The new information from the investigators reveals that Zobayan may have felt "self-induced pressure" to complete the flight for Bryant. He made a few poor decisions that caused him to fly blindly into a wall of clouds. He then became so disoriented he thought the flight was climbing when the craft was actually plunging toward a Southern California hillside, federal safety officials were reported as saying by Associated Press.
The National Transportation Safety Board primarily blamed the pilot for the crash, which occurred while the passengers of the craft were on their way to a girls basketball tournament. Even though he was an experienced pilot, he ignored his training, violated flight rules when he flew into conditions where he couldn’t see, and failed to take alternate measures, like slowing down and landing or switching to auto-pilot. The alternate measures could have prevented the tragedy.
The NTSB said that Zobayan may have felt pressured to ensure that his star client reached his daughter’s game at Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy on time. The investigators also believe that he could have felt "continuation bias," which is an unconscious tendency among pilots to stick with the original plan even when weather conditions don't cooperate. "The closer you get to the destination the more you think just maybe you can pull this off," NTSB Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg.
The agency presented the findings in a four-hour hearing to reveal the probable cause of what led to the crash and resulted in several lawsuits, as well as prompted state and federal legislation. The NTSB found that Island Express Helicopters Inc., which operated the aircraft, had inadequate review and oversight of safety matters.
They revealed that the pilot flew into a trap when he decided to climb above the clouds. When a pilot can't see where they are going, the inner ear can send erroneous signals to the brain causing spatial disorientation. It’s also known as "the leans." The pilot erroneously thinks that they are flying aircraft straight and level when they are banking.
Zobayan pressed on even though there were airports where he could have landed. When the spatial disorientation sets in, a pilot is unable to interpret what the flight instruments are showing as compared to what they are physically experiencing, as per NPR.
The pilot had radioed air traffic controllers that he was climbing when he was descending rapidly toward the steep hills near Calabasas, NTSB investigators concluded, reported Associated Press. He flouted laws by flying into conditions where he could not see where he was going. Flying into the cloud was a violation of the laws.
NTSB member Michael Graham said that the pilot ignored his training and when helicopter pilots continue flying into clouds without relying on instruments, which requires a high level of training, "a certain percentage aren’t going to come out alive." He had been certified to fly using only instruments but he was no longer an expert in it, NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said.
He flew the Sikorsky S-76B helicopter at about 184 mph (296 kph) and they descended at a rate of more than 4,000 feet (1,219 meters) per minute before slamming into the hillside. The victims died immediately. The pilot was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol and was no mechanical failure, investigators said. There was no "black box" like recording devices on board that could have revealed what happened specifically.