The helicopter crash that killed basketball legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others last year was likely caused by its pilot, the US’ National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said Tuesday.
A Sikorsky S-76B helicopter carrying retired NBA superstar, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, six other passengers, and the pilot Ara Zobayan crashed in the city of Calabasas in California, around 30 miles (48 kilometers) northwest of Los Angeles on Jan. 26 last year.
Other passengers who lost their lives included Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife Keri, and their daughter Alyssa; Christina Mauser, who helped Bryant coach his daughter’s basketball team; and Sarah Chester and her daughter Payton.
Zobayan, who had 10 years of experience flying in the area, tried to climb sharply on a mountain among clouds before banking suddenly and plunged into the hillside, the NTSB report found.
It said there was no initial signs of mechanical failure in the helicopter, but an NTSB official added the pilot could have had pressure to complete the trip despite the weather conditions due to his relationship with Bryant whom he flew for years.
“The pilot took pride in these positions … They had a good relationship with the client and likely did not want to disappoint them by not completing the flight. This self-induced pressure can adversely affect pilot decision-making and judgment,” the official said.
While the NTSB said the pilot lost visual sight in the clouds, it said there were “operational distractions from his primary task of monitoring the flight instruments” on his behalf, calling it “spatial disorientation.”
“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 NTSB said.
“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,” it added.
The independent government investigative agency also noted that there were 184 fatal aircraft accidents resulting from spatial disorientation, of which 20 involved helicopters.
Bryant’s widow Bryant blamed the pilot, while families of other victims said the operating company of the helicopter had fault. Island Express Helicopters, however, denied responsibility in the crash and said it was “an act of God.”