National Transportation Safety Board: ‘Pilot’s Poor Decision Making, Spatial Disorientation, Led to Fatal Helicopter Crash’
It’s now been more than a year since that tragic day where a helicopter “crash…killed Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and six other passengers” per NPR.
More information was released on the crash from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) on February 9, when they had a public meeting and sent out a news release.
“The National Transportation Safety Board determined during a public meeting Tuesday, a pilot’s decision to continue flight under visual flight rules into instrument meteorological conditions, which resulted in the pilot’s spatial disorientation and loss of control, led to the fatal, Jan. 26, 2020, crash of a Sikorsky S-76B helicopter in Calabasas, California,” The NTSB said in its press release. “The pilot and eight passengers died when the helicopter, operated by Island Express Helicopters, Inc., entered a rapidly descending left turn and crashed into terrain. The flight departed from John Wayne Airport-Orange County, Santa Ana, California, and was bound for Camarillo, California.”
More of the NTSB’s findings:
“About two minutes before the crash, while at an altitude of about 450 feet above ground level, the pilot transmitted to an air traffic control facility that he was initiating a climb to get the helicopter ‘above the [cloud] layers.’ The helicopter climbed at a rate of about 1,500 feet per minute and began a gradual left turn. The helicopter reached an altitude of about 2,400 feet above sea level (1,600 feet above ground level) and began to descend rapidly in a left turn to the ground. While the helicopter was descending the air traffic controller asked the pilot to ‘say intentions,’ and the pilot replied that the flight was climbing to 4,000 feet msl (about 3,200 feet above ground level). A witness first heard the helicopter and then saw it emerge from the bottom of the cloud layer in a left-banked descent about one or two seconds before impact. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s likely self-induced pressure and plan continuation bias, which adversely affected his decision making. The NTSB also determined Island Express Helicopters Inc.’s inadequate review and oversight of its safety management process contributed to the crash.”NTSB per NTSB press release
“Unfortunately, we continue to see these same issues influence poor decision making among otherwise experienced pilots in aviation crashes,” Robert Sumwalt, NTSB Chairman, said. “Had this pilot not succumbed to the pressures he placed on himself to continue the flight into adverse weather, it is likely this accident would not have happened. A robust safety management system can help operators like Island Express provide the support their pilots need to help them resist such very real pressures.”
Here’s the document with a full synopsis from the NTSB
ESPN showed a clip of the NTSB briefing with the video description stating: “The National Transportation Safety Board said the pilot in the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and seven others went against his training by flying into thick clouds”.
The AP explained the findings from the NTSB further, stating: “The pilot…made a series of poor decisions that led him to fly blindly into a wall of clouds where he became so disoriented he thought he was climbing when the craft was plunging toward a Southern California hillside, federal safety officials said. The National Transportation Safety Board primarily blamed pilot Ara Zobayan in the Jan. 26, 2020 crash that killed him along with Bryant, the basketball star’s daughter and six other passengers heading to a girls basketball tournament. Zobayan, an experienced pilot, ignored his training, violated flight rules by flying into conditions where he couldn’t see and failed to take alternate measures, such as slowing down and landing or switching to auto-pilot, that would have averted the tragedy.”
Here’s the NTSB Docket of the investigation
The AP further reported: “The NTSB said it was likely Zobayan felt pressure to deliver his star client to his daughter’s game at Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy. Officials believe Zobayan may have also felt ‘continuation bias,’ an unconscious tendency among pilots to stick with the original plan despite changing conditions.”
“The closer you get to the destination the more you think just maybe you can pull this off,” NTSB Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg said per the AP.
“Vanessa Bryant said Island Express Helicopters Inc., which operated the aircraft, and its owner, Island Express Holding Corp., did not properly train or supervise Zobayan. She said the pilot was careless and negligent to fly in fog and should have aborted the flight. Zobayan’s brother, Berge Zobayan, has said Kobe Bryant knew the risks of flying in a helicopter and that his survivors aren’t entitled to damages from the pilot’s estate. Island Express Helicopters Inc. denied responsibility and said the crash was ‘an act of God’ that it could not control.”Associated Press: “US officials: Pilot error caused Kobe Bryant chopper crash”
Prayers to the Bryant’s and all the families who lost their loved ones on this tragic day.
Charlie Lapastora is a sports/news multimedia journalist who’s reported, written, produced, anchored, shot video/edited on different NBC, ABC, and FOX shows in multiple TV markets, along with digital & new media companies. Charlie has traveled the country telling national sports, news, feature, and original stories on a cable news network, airing on top 10 TV markets, satellite radio, and digital platforms. He is passionate about his faith, family—being a husband to whom he calls the G.O.A.T. of women—about reppin’ his home state of Michigan and Detroit teams (yes, including the Lions), good coffee, and loves how sports brings people together. He’s traveled the world leading and coaching sports camps and has also worked at the Detroit Pistons and LA Clippers’ NBA teams.
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