A little over a year after Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gigi, and seven others died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, the National Transportation Board announced what the probably cause of the crash was.
According to the NTSB, the pilot’s “spatial disorientation” in the thick fog that enveloped Southern California on that day caused Ara Zobayan to crash into a hillside.
Zobayan was Bryant’s regular pilot, and had over 10 years of experience flying in that area where he crashed.
It’s important to note that Zobayan was “legally prohibited” from flying into clouds, but he did so anyway. The pilot had told air traffic controllers that the helicopter was climbing out of the clouds, when in fact it was descending before slamming into a hillside.
Robert Sumwalt, the Chairman of the NTSB said Zobayan was “flying under visual flight orders or VFR which legally prohibited him from penetrating the clouds.”
The board will be discussing whether the pilot was facing pressure to complete the flight, and what actions he could have taken to avoid flying into the clouds.
The NTSB said they saw no sign of mechanical failure, and the helicopter climbed sharply before suddenly banking and then plunging into the grassy hillside.
“The resulting dissent and acceleration were conducive for the pilot to experience a summative graphic illusion in which he would incorrectly perceive that the helicopter was climbing when it was descending. The helicopter continued this deep dissent the pilot was either not referencing the instruments or having difficulty interpreting or believing them due to the compelling vestibular illusions and he did not successfully recover the helicopter,” an NTSB official said.
The NTSB said there were 184 fatal accidents that resulted form spatial disorientation, and of those, 20 involved helicopters.
Kobe’s widow Vanessa Bryant has blamed the pilot for causing the crash. The company that owned the helicopter, Island Express Helicopters has denied responsibility and called it “an act of God.”
The report took this long because the helicopter involved in the accident was not required to have a black box recording device on board.