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Kobe Bryant crash pilot disoriented while flying in clouds, US security officials say

Kobe Bryant crash pilot disoriented while flying in clouds, US security officials say

The pilot of the helicopter that crashed last year in Southern California, killing Kobe Bryant and seven other passengers, made a major mistake while flying through thick clouds that ended up disorienting him, US security officials said Tuesday during a hearing to identify the likely causes of the crash.

Pilot Ara Zobayan violated federal standards that required him to be able to see where he was going before the helicopter crashed during an approximately 40-minute flight, members of the National Transportation Safety Board said. Zobayan was among nine people killed, including Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna.

The pilot went against his training by becoming spatially disoriented in thick cloud, a condition that can happen to pilots in low visibility, when they cannot tell up and down or discern which direction a plane tilts, board members said.

What happened

Just before the crash on January 26, 2020, Zobayan told flight controllers he was getting into the helicopter and almost breaking through the clouds.

But NTSB investigators said the Sikorsky S-76 helicopter was in fact tilting and starting to descend more and more, investigators said.

There were 184 plane crashes between 2010 and 2019 involving spatial disorientation, including 20 fatal helicopter crashes, the NTSB said.

Tuesday’s federal hearing focused on the long-awaited probable cause or causes of the tragedy that sparked the retired basketball star’s worldwide grief, launched several lawsuits and prompted state and federal legislation.

“I think the whole world is watching because it’s Kobe,” said Ed Coleman, professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and expert in aviation safety science.

Bryant, Gianna and six other passengers were flying from Orange County to a youth basketball tournament at his Mamba Sports Academy in Ventura County on January 26, 2020, when the helicopter encountered heavy fog in the valley. from San Fernando north to Los Angeles.

There was no sign of mechanical failure and the crash was considered an accident, the National Transportation Safety Board previously said. The helicopter did not have so-called “black box” recording devices, which were not required.

At its hearing on Tuesday, the board is likely to make non-binding recommendations to avoid future accidents when it meets remotely and announces its findings on the crash.

The NTSB is an independent federal agency that investigates transportation-related collisions but has no enforcement powers.

He submits suggestions to agencies like the Federal Aviation Administration or the Coast Guard, which have repeatedly rejected some of the council’s safety recommendations after other disasters.

Speculation on the use of the system

Over the past year, experts have speculated that the crash could lead to the need for terrain warning and detection systems, devices that signal when planes are in danger of crashing, on helicopters.

The helicopter Bryant was flying in did not have the system, which the NTSB recommended as mandatory for helicopters. The FAA only requires it for air ambulances.

However, NTSB investigator Bill English said on Tuesday that the system likely would not have been helpful in the scenario in which Bryant’s helicopter crashed.

The hilly terrain, combined with the pilot’s spatial disorientation in the clouds, would have been “confusing,” English said.

“The pilot doesn’t know which direction is heading,” English said.

Federal investigators said Zobayan, an experienced pilot who often flew on Bryant, may have “misperceived” the angles at which he descended and banked, which can occur when pilots are disoriented in low visibility.

Investigators also criticized Zobayan on Tuesday for leaning to the left instead of going straight up when trying to get out of bad weather.

The others killed in the crash were Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife, Keri, and their daughter Alyssa; Christina Mauser, who helped Bryant coach her daughter’s basketball team; and Sarah Chester and her daughter Payton. Alyssa and Payton were Gianna’s teammates.

Crash result

The crash generated lawsuits and counter-actions.

On the day that a massive memorial service took place at Staples Center, where Bryant played most of his career, Vanessa Bryant sued Zobayan and the companies that owned and operated the helicopter for alleged negligence and the wrongful death of her husband. and his daughter. The families of other victims sued the helicopter companies, but not the pilot.

Vanessa Bryant said Island Express Helicopters Inc., which operated the aircraft, and its owner, Island Express Holding Corp., had not properly trained or supervised Zobayan. She said the pilot was reckless and negligent to fly in the fog and should have aborted the flight.

Zobayan’s brother Berge Zobayan said Kobe Bryant knew of the risks of flying in a helicopter and his survivors were not entitled to damages from the pilot. Island Express Helicopters Inc. denied responsibility and said the crash was “force majeure” that it could not control.

The company also challenged two FAA air traffic controllers, claiming the crash was caused by their “series of wrong acts and / or omissions.”

Vanessa Bryant also sued the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, accusing lawmakers of sharing unauthorized photos of the crash site. California now has state law prohibiting such behavior.

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