Pilot in Kobe Bryant crash thought he was climbing to 4,000 feet when chopper was plunging towards a hillside
The pilot flying the helicopter that crashed on January 26 in a thick fog, killing basketball legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and several others, reported that he was climbing when he was actually descending during the flight. The revelation was made in documents released by federal investigators on Wednesday, June 17.
The helicopter's pilot, Ara Zobayan, had reportedly radioed in air traffic controllers, saying he was climbing to 4,000 feet to get above clouds when the chopper was actually plunging towards a hillside, where it later crashed. The latest report, 1,700 pages, released by the National Transportation Safety Board, has stated that Zobayan may have "misperceived” the pitch of the aircraft. The confusion reportedly occurs when a pilot becomes disoriented in low visibility while flying an aircraft. Shortly after the aircraft's crash, experts stated that the path of the flight suggested that Zobayan had lost his bearing, according to the Associated Press.
An aviation safety consultant, John Cox, told the Daily Mail that the helicopter's erratic flight path was a telltale sign that the pilot had become disoriented in conditions that make it difficult to see terrain or the horizon. "He is not the first person to experience it," Cox said. "It's a significant cause of accidents."
The federal report, however, does not offer a conclusion on what resulted in the helicopter's crash. A final report on the investigations is scheduled to be released at a later date.
The Los Angeles Lakers legend, 41, died in the helicopter crash in Calabasas, California on January 26. The chopper was carrying his 13-year-old daughter Gianna Bryant, and seven others. None survived the fatal crash.
Zobayan, nearly 45 minutes before takeoff, had reportedly texted a group of people overseeing the flight that the weather was looking "OK." The pilot took off from John Wayne Airport in Orange County shortly after 9 am. He was taking the same eight passengers he had flown the day before to the same destination when the crash occurred. The chopper was heading to a girls basketball tournament at the retired Lakers star’s sports academy north of Los Angeles.
A frantic search of the helicopter was launched by an executive of the firm that operated the craft after the chopper did not land at its destination within an hour of taking off. Reports state that another helicopter was also dispatched immediately to search for the missing chopper.
Whitney Bagge, vice president of Island Express Helicopters, said: "The weird thing, though, is that the tracker had stopped at 9.45 am, which is not normal and we were trying to reach Ara over the radio. I kept refreshing the tracker praying that it was just broken." The federal report also stated that there was no sign of mechanical failure in the flight.
NTSB investigators interviewed four current and one former employee for Island Express, while some stated that the safety culture of the firm could have been better, others praised the company, the reports state. One of the pilots interviewed said that the company's chief pilot, Zobayan, did not discuss safety policy or the minimum visibility needed to fly in certain weather with them.