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NTSB: Pilot error in Kobe Bryant crash

By AI HEPING in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-02-10 12:10

Los Angeles county firefighters arrive on the scene of a helicopter crash that killed retired basketball star Kobe Bryant in Calabasas, California, US, Jan 26, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

The pilot of Kobe Bryant's helicopter that crashed last year violated flight standards by flying through clouds and likely became disoriented just before the crash that killed the basketball legend, his 13-year-old daughter and seven others, safety investigators said Tuesday.

Pilot Ara Zobayan, 50, who also was killed in the Jan 26 crash, was flying under visual flight rules through cloud cover, which was "legally prohibited", yet he "continued his flight into clouds", National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chairman Robert Sumwalt said at a four-hour public hearing in Washington to specify the likely cause or causes of the crash.

Zobayan had been certified to fly using only instruments, but was no longer proficient, Sumwalt said.

The NTSB said poor visibility probably led Zobayan to become disoriented in thick fog north of Los Angeles. Investigators said they believed Zobayan experienced a spatial disorientation known as "the leans", which occurs in the inner ear and causes pilots to believe they are flying aircraft straight and level when they are actually banking.

There have been 184 aircraft crashes between 2010 and 2019 involving spatial disorientation, including 20 fatal helicopter crashes, the NTSB said.

NTSB member Michael Graham said Zobayan ignored his training, adding that as long as helicopters continue to fly into clouds while using visual flight rules, "a certain percentage will not come out alive"

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