(UPDATE: 2/9/21 at 1:45 p.m. ET): After revealing the extensive results of is investigation, the NTSB released the following statement regarding the cause of Kobe Bryant’s helicopter crash: “The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause of this accident was the 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. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s likely self-induced pressure and the pilot’s plan continuation bias which adversely affected his decision-making and Island Express Helicopter’s inadequate review and oversight of its safety management processes.”
(ORIGINAL STORY): The NTSB found “no evidence” that Kobe Bryant pressured helicopter pilot, Ara Zobayan, to fly amidst dangerous weather conditions on Jan. 26, 2020. “There was no evidence that Island Express, the air charter broker, or the client [Kobe Bryant] placed pressure on the pilot to accept the charter flight request or complete the flight [in] adverse weather,” an NTSB investigator confirmed on Feb. 9, 2021. The horrific crash killed Kobe, his daughter, Gianna Bryant, as well as Ara and six other passengers.
The investigators also pointed out that Kobe had a long-standing relationship with Ara, who had previously piloted aircrafts for members of the Bryant family on a number of occasions. “The type of relationship that he had with the client can lead to self-induced pressure during the en-route portion of the flight,” an investigator explained. Ara was flying the helicopter’s passengers to Gianna’s basketball game (two of the passengers were her teammates).
It’s believed that Ara experienced spatial disorientation amidst the foggy weather before crashing the helicopter in Calabasas, according to the NTSB. This condition causes the pilot to think the aircraft is ascending, when really, it’s descending. “The pilot doesn’t know which way is up” while experiencing spatial disorientation, the NTSB investigator explained.
However, the investigators also admitted that they felt Ara had several opportunities to land the aircraft before reaching a point where he began experiencing this scary condition. The accident occurred near the Van Nuys airport. Investigators said that Ara should have recognized that he wasn’t flying in safe weather conditions and turned around to land there instead of trying to complete the initial flight plan toward Camarillo Airport. “The weather did not sneak up on the pilot,” the NTSB spokesperson explained.
Kobe’s wife, Vanessa Bryant, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the heirs of Ara’s estate, as well as Island Express Helicopters, in Feb. 2020. In May, Island Express responded to Vanessa’s claims that the company had been negligent. “[The passengers] had actual knowledge of all of the circumstances, particular dangers and appreciation of the risks involved and the magnitude thereof,” so they “voluntarily assume the risk of the accident, injury and damages,” the company said in a response.
Meanwhile, a relative of Ara’s also issued a response, and said the passengers were to blame. “Any injuries or damages to plaintiffs and/or their decedent were directly caused in full or in part by the negligence or fault of plaintiffs and/or of their decedent,” the response said. “Including their knowing and voluntary encounter with the risks involved and that this negligence was a substantial factor in causing their purported damages, for which this answering defendant bears no responsibility.”