Helicopter Crash Preventable

Helicopter Crash Preventable


February 12, 2021 | G-BLOG, International

Gianna & Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna
Photo Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

It appears the Jan. 26, 2020 helicopter crash that took the lives of Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other people, was preventable. 

A five-member panel of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) made these findings after four hours of testimony and deliberations. 

The NTSB said helicopter pilot Ara Zobayan pushed the limits of bad weather flying rules, climbed into clouds, and became disoriented about the helicopter’s position. That was before he made a deadly left turn into a fog-covered hillside in Calabasas, Cali.

Weather and visibility were a concern ahead of the flight, and Zobayan discussed the plan to go ahead in a group text before the trip, according to NTSB documents released last year. 

“This weather did not sneak up on the pilot,” Bill English, the lead investigator on the case, told the panel. He noted that Zobayan had the “very easy alternative” to decide the weather was an issue and land at an airport just a few minutes away.

Visibility was so low on the morning of Jan. 26, 2020 that the Los Angeles Police Department decided to ground its helicopters.

The NTSB said the pilot appeared to become disoriented in the fog. 

According to records, Zobayan was flying at an altitude of about 1,500 feet before he told radar controllers he was going to “start our climb to go above the … layers.”

When asked his intentions, the pilot responded he was climbing to 4,000 feet to get over the clouds. 

Radar shows that around 9:45 a.m., the helicopter climbed to about 2,300 feet and turned left, before descending at a rapid rate. It dropped off radar at about 1,200 feet, near the crash site, the NTSB had said.

As a result of the crash, the NTSB panel unanimously recommended that charter helicopter pilots get more simulator and scenario-based training in the flying phenomenon known as spatial disorientation.

It also reiterated a previous recommendation that turbine-powered helicopters, such as the Sikorsky S-76B that Zobayan was piloting, be equipped with crash-resistant flight data, voice, and image recorders. 

The helicopter did not have and was not required to have this recording equipment onboard. The gathered information would have benefited the investigation.

Investigators emphasized that the helicopter was previously fitted with a cockpit voice recorder but it was removed. 


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