NTSB identifies cause of helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and seven others

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The helicopter crash that left Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others dead was likely caused by the pilot’s “spatial disorientation,” National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) officials said Tuesday.

Bryant, his daughter Gigi, and seven others were killed when the helicopter they were on crashed into a hillside in Southern California last January. They were all flying from Orange County to a youth basketball tournament in Ventura County when the helicopter encountered thick fog near Calabasas.

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The pilot, identified as Ara Zobayan who had 10 years of experience flying in the area, climbed sharply before banking abruptly and plunging into the hillside. The NTSB said initially there was no sign of mechanical failure and it appeared to be an accident, Fox News reported.

Those who died along with Bryant and his daughter were 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, as well as the pilot. Alyssa and Payton were Gianna’s teammates.

An NTSB official said there was likely added self-pressure on the pilot to complete the trip despite the weather conditions, due to his relationship with the client. But the agency concluded that there was no added outside pressure on the pilot to make the trip.

“The pilot took pride in these positions with both the client and Island Express. 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 NTSB official said.

The NTSB said while air traffic control asked the pilot to “ident,” which means for the pilot to put his hand to the center of the instrument panel and press a button, it introduced “operational distractions from his primary task of monitoring the flight instruments” since he lost visual sight in the clouds, Fox reported.

“The resulting descent and acceleration were conducive for the pilot to experience a somatogravic illusion in which he would incorrectly perceive that the helicopter was climbing when it was descending. The helicopter continued this steep descent 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,” the NTSB official said during the meeting.

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