Investigators Determine the Cause of the Kobe Bryant Helicopter Crash

The National Transportation Safety Board says pilot Ara Zobayan likely became disoriented while flying through clouds

Just over a year after the tragic helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, six fellow passengers, and the aircraft’s pilot, Ara Zobayan, the National Transportation Safety Board has determined the likely cause of the accident.

This morning, NTSB chairman Robert Sumwalt said investigators have determined that Zobayan flew through the clouds, an apparent violation of federal standards, and most likely became disoriented just before the helicopter crashed into hills in the Calabasas area. Investigators also scrutinized Zobayan’s decision to bank to the left instead of ascending straight up while trying to climb out of the bad weather, but acknowledged he may have “misperceived” the angles. The board had previously determined that there was no sign of mechanical failure.

In February 2020, Bryant’s widow Vanessa filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the operator of the chartered helicopter, Island Express Helicopters, alleging that Zobayan was negligent and failed to “use ordinary care in piloting.” The lawsuit claims that Zobayan should have more accurately monitored weather and conditions on the foggy day and aborted the flight when it appeared dangerous to fly. The company has denied culpability and called the accident an “act of god.”

Vanessa Bryant also filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, alleging that sheriff’s deputies took graphic and gratuitous photos of the crash scene for their “own personal purposes.” The other crash victims, all of whom were on their way to a youth basketball game, were Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife, Keri, and their daughter Alyssa, a teammate of Gianna’s; basketball coach Christina Mauser; and Sarah Chester and her daughter Payton, also a teammate of Gianna’s.

The NTSB doesn’t have enforcement power but, rather, submits suggestions to federal agencies. According to the Associated Press, “experts have speculated that the crash could lead to requiring Terrain Awareness and Warning Systems, devices that signal when aircraft are in danger of crashing, on helicopters.”

RELATED: Vanessa Bryant Is Suing the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department Over Leaked Kobe Crash Scene Photos

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