Kobe Bryant’s pilot may have deliberately broken FFA rules by going above clouds with rapid ascent, expert says

The pilot, identified as Ara Zobayan, was flying under "special visual flight rules," which permits traveling in poor weather conditions


                            Kobe Bryant’s pilot may have deliberately broken FFA rules by going above clouds with rapid ascent, expert says
Kobe Bryant. (Getty Images)

The pilot of the luxury helicopter carrying NBA legend Kobe Bryant on January 26 may have deliberately violated Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules that led to the Sikorsky S-76B crashing into a hill, according to an expert. 

The Los Angeles Lakers legend, 41, died in the helicopter crash in Calabasas, California on Sunday, January 26. The chopper was carrying his 13-year-old daughter Gianna Bryant, and seven others. None survived the fatal crash. 

The pilot, identified as Ara Zobayan, was flying under "special visual flight rules," which permits traveling in poor weather conditions without relying on the electronic instruments of an aircraft. However, reports state that even under those rules, pilots are required to remain beneath clouds to maintain visual contact with the ground.

In this handout photo provided by the National Transportation Safety Board, investigators work at the scene of the helicopter crash that killed former NBA star Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna on January 27, 2020 in Calabasas, California. (Getty Images)

Former FFA chief accident investigator Jeffrey Guzzetti said that the rapid ascent by the pilot "would suggest either intentionally not complying with the FAA rules regarding visual flight" or that Zobayan inadvertently flew into the hazardous cloud cover, Insurance Journal reported.  

On the day of the deadly crash, the pilot reportedly pulled the helicopter into a rapid climb, likely believing that he was flying too close to the ground, aviation journalist Jeff Wise said, detailing an account of the accident in the New York Magazine.

The chopper climbed nearly 1,000 feet in just 36 seconds, drawing closer to the thick cloud layer hanging over the Los Angeles area that day. Wise added that it can never be confirmed whether the chopper entered the clouds. He added that if the helicopter entered the clouds, Zobayan would have immediately found himself in deep trouble.

"Amid a sudden whiteout, disorientation can come surprisingly quickly," the aviation journalist wrote. 

Fans and players pay tribute to the late Kobe Bryant during the round 18 NBL match between Melbourne United and the Perth Wildcats at Melbourne Arena on January 29, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. (Getty Images)

Wise speculated that the pilot possibly experienced a "sense of mental overload" because of his disorientation which led him to make fatefully poor decision of suddenly turning left and then enter a steep dive. 

He added that Zobayan’s final maneuver may have been an effort to see the ground again as he attempted to go below the clouds "while pulling a hard 180" to get away for what he might have thought was the hillside in front of him. However, the hills were also to the sides of the aircraft too, and as the chopper descended to 800 feet in 18 seconds, it plowed into the hillside and burst into flames.  

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