LOS ANGELES – Safety investigators say the pilot of Kobe Bryant’s helicopter flew through the clouds in an apparent violation of federal standards and likely became disoriented just before the helicopter crashed and killed Bryant and eight other people. .
Robert Sumwalt, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), said Tuesday that pilot Ara Zobayan was flying under visual flight rules, which means he needed to be able to see where he was going.
Zobayan piloted the aircraft to climb steeply and nearly went through the clouds when the Sikorsky S-76 helicopter tipped steeply and sank into the hills, killing all nine people on board.
The helicopter did not have a so-called “black box” recording device, which was not required.
The disclosure during a hearing to announce the probable cause or causes of the accident came after many allegations.
Bryant’s widow blamed the pilot. She and the relatives of the other victims also blamed the companies that owned and operated the helicopter.
The pilot’s brother didn’t blame Bryant, but said he knew the risks of flying. Helicopter companies said the fog before the helicopter hit the ground was an act of God and blamed air traffic controllers.
The federal hearing focused on the anticipated probable cause or causes of a tragedy that sparked pain around the world for the retired basketball star, prompting several lawsuits and prompting 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 their Mamba Sports Academy in Ventura County on January 26, 2020, when the helicopter encountered a thick fog in the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles.
There were no signs of mechanical failure and the crash was believed to be an accident, the National Transportation Safety Board previously said.
The board is likely to make non-binding recommendations to prevent future accidents when it meets remotely and announces its conclusions about the accident.
The NTSB is an independent federal agency that investigates transportation-related crashes, but does not have enforcement powers.