Kobe Bryant helicopter crash probe by NTSB found no evidence Bryant ‘placed pressure’ on pilot

The National Transportation Safety Board has determined that the probable cause of the crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and six other passengers last year was the pilot’s decision to continue flight under adverse weather conditions. The result, they said, was the pilot’s “spatial disorientation” and loss of control.

Also contributing to the accident, the board said Tuesday, was the pilot’s likely “self-induced pressure” to please a high-profile client and a bias toward continuing with the established plan. It also cited the helicopter operator’s inadequate review of its safety management processes.

NTSB investigators said at Tuesday’s hearing that had become spatially disoriented when he flew into thick clouds.

The pilot, Ara Zobayan, was prohibited by federal regulations from penetrating the clouds, but he did so anyway. He told air traffic controllers that he was about to rise above the clouds, but instead he crashed into the hillside below. Zobayan was also killed in the crash on Jan. 26, 2020.

The board discussed the role that “self-induced pressure” could have played in the crash. There was no evidence, said NTSB investigator Dujuan Sevillian, that the client, helicopter operator Island Express or the air charter broker placed pressure on pilot. Nonetheless, the pilot may have put pressure on himself to fly an important client.

Bryant was 41 at the time of the crash, and his daughter was 13. Also killed were Gianna’s teammates and friends of the Bryants.

The board said last February that there was no evidence of engine failure. The helicopter did not have a “black box” flight recording system.

The board found that the air traffic controller’s failure to report the loss of radar contact did not contribute to the accident or affect its survivability.