February 10, 2021

Associated Press: Kobe Bryant Helicopter Pilot Disoriented in Clouds, Leading to Deadly Crash

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On Tuesday, federal officials found pilot Ara Zobayan's disorientation while flying in the clouds caused the crash that took the lives of nine people, including Kobe Bryant and his daughter Giana Bryant, 12.

The National Transportation and Safety Board have concluded pilot Ara Zobayan made series of poor decisions leading up to the fatal crash that claimed the lives of all nine on board. They released their findings on Tuesday. 

As reported by the Associated Press, Zobayan was said to have flown into clouds, a move that violated the rules mandated by federal standards and likely lead to an impairment in his visibility leading to spatial disorientation.


Kobe Bryant #24 smiling after the LA Lakers defeated the Phoenix Suns Source | Photo: Getty Images

The report explained Zobayan did not make alternate decisions like slowing down, landing, or switching to auto-pilot, which may have averted the crash. Officials also believe the pilot may have been under continuation bias.


Continuation bias is an unconscious tendency in pilots to stay with their original plan despite changing conditions. The NTSB Chairman Bruce Lansberg went on to warn on continuation bias, saying

“The closer you get to the destination the more you think just maybe you can pull this off.”


Spatial disorientation occurs when pilots fly into fog or darkness. The loss of visual cues makes the inner ear send wrong signals to the brain, causing pilots to believe they are flying straight when they are banking.

The officials also added Zobayan was under self-induced pressure to fly his star client. The much-awaited report was released in a four-hour hearing to determine what went wrong during the Jan 26, 2020, 40-minute flight.


The NTSB had previously refuted claims the helicopter, Sikorsky S-76B, had suffered from engine failure saying analysis showed the helicopter's main and tail rotors were working at the time of impact.

Bryant and others onboard the S76 were on their way to a basketball match at Bryant's Mamba Sports Academy. The athlete had started using helicopters as a way to spend more time with his family, explaining:

“I had to figure out a way where I could still train and focus on the craft but still not compromise family time.”


Bryant had flown with Zobayan 10 ten times on the same route in 2019. His fellow travelers had also been to the destination the previous day. Families of the victims are currently in legal battles with the helicopter company.

The company, Island Express Helicopters Inc., has been faulted by the NTSB for oversight of safety matters and inadequate review. According to the Associated Press, lawyers for the company had no comment.


Bryant leaves behind his wife Vanessa Bryant and daughters Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and Capri, born 2019. Federal lawmakers are sponsoring an act to fit warning systems on helicopters carrying six or more people.

Bryant stunned the world during his decades-long career before his retirement in 2016. The athlete was a five-time NBA champion and more, winning gold with USA Basketball at the Beijing and London Olympics.