In the year since the tragic deaths of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, speculation has been plentiful, but actual answers have been in short supply.
On Tuesday, however, according to reports from ESPN and CNN, investigators determined that pilot Ara Zobayan violated federal standards and likely became disoriented before crashing the helicopter that killed Kobe, Gianna and seven others.
Basketball legend Kobe Bryant’s helicopter pilot pushed the limits of bad weather flying rules, and ultimately abandoned his training as he became disoriented in the clouds and crashed into a Southern California hillside last year, investigators said Tuesday.
The comments were made during a National Transportation Safety Board meeting that is to settle on an official cause of the January 26, 2020, crash that killed Bryant, his daughter, the pilot, and six others.
The meeting, still underway Tuesday morning, will lay out possible long-lasting safety recommendations as a result of the crash, including more strident calls for increased safety training for helicopter pilots on how to avoid inadvertently flying into clouds.
“We use the term crash rather than accident,” NTSB Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg said. “An accident (is) just something that’s unforeseen, unpredictable, if you will. Unfortunately, this wasn’t.”
Investigators believe that Zobayan might’ve been under pressure to perform for a client of Bryant’s stature and decided to continue flying despite the dangerous weather conditions. Questions also remain as to why Zobayan climbed into what’s been described as a “wall of cloud,” then flew into an obscured hillside that he was very much aware was there.
“It’s not like [...] the pilot was flying along, didn’t know where the hills are and blundered into the side of a hill,” NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said.
He also said that even though the helicopter was equipped to fly into clouds, under visual flight rules, Zobayan was required to be able to see where he was flying.
“It would seem to be that these flights should have been operated under [Instrument Flight Rules],” Sumwalt said.
In the aftermath of the crash, Vanessa Bryant, Kobe’s widow, has filed a series of lawsuits claiming negligence in the wrongful deaths of both her husband and daughter and demanded “the harshest possible discipline” for deputies who allegedly leaked photos from the crash site.
As a result, the “Kobe Bryant Act” was passed in September that prohibits first responders from taking unauthorized pictures of the deceased at the scene of a crime or accident. This misdemeanor offense is punishable by up to $1,000 per violation.