Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were among those killed when a helicopter plowed into a hillside in Calabasas.
Investigators said on Tuesday that the NBA star did not put pressure on the pilot to fly in dangerous conditions as they ruled the tragic incident was caused by the pilot’s poor decision to fly to please the basketball icon.
Gianna’s teammates Payton Chester and Alyssa Altobelli, Alyssa’s parents Keri and John Altobelli, Payton’s mother Sarah Chester, and coach Christina Mauser were also on board.
Pilot Ara Zobayan, 50, took the passengers up in a Sikorsky S-76 helicopter on January 26, 2020. They were planning to fly to the Mamba Sports Academy to watch the girls in a tournament.
But 40 minutes after they took off, the aircraft crashed into a hillside in Calabasas, killing all nine people on board.
Officials said on Tuesday that no pressure was put on the pilot to fly the helicopter in the dangerous conditions.
“It was an issue of judgement, decision making, that led to this,” said NTSB Robert L. Sumwalt, adding that Zobaya was highly commended and experienced but made a poor decision that day.
“The helicopter was descending at a rate of 4,000ft a minute. What they were actually feeling, I do not know,” he said.
“The NTSB determines the probable cause was pilot’s decision to continue flight under VFR into IMC which resulted into spacial disorientation and loss of control,” the report said.
“Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s likely self-induced pressure and his plan continuation bias which adversely affected his decision-making, and Island Express Helicopters Inc’s inadequate review and oversight of the safety and processes.”
NTSB Vice-Chairman Bruce Landsberg also said that this is not the first time a star-struck pilot carried out dangerous flying.
“You’re dealing with someone of star status and pilots who desperately want to do a good job,” he said as he compared the incident to crashes that have taken the lives of other famous people like Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly, and singer Aaliyah.
The NTSB Findings also include: “The pilot’s poor decision to fly in excess of airspeed and the weather conditions was inconsistent with adverse weather training and reduce the time available for him to choose an alternative course of action to avoid entering meteorological conditions.
“The pilot experience spatial disorientation while climbing the helicopter in instrument meteorological condition would lead to loss of helicopter control and resulting collision with terrain.
“The pilot’s decision to continue the flight into deteriorating weather conditions was likely influenced by a self-induced pressure to fulfill the clients travel needs, his lack of an alternative plan, and the plan continuation bias which strengthened as the flight neared the destination.”
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