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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

FILE PHOTO: A fan poses by a mural of late Kobe Bryant, who perished one year ago alongside his daughter and seven others when their helicopter crashed into a hillside, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 26, 2021. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/File Photo

Zobayan, the NTSB said, also made a "poor decision" to fly at excessive speed in bad weather, and the Sikorsky S-76B helicopter wasn't in a controlled flight pattern when it crashed.

The helicopter was flying at about 184 mph (296 kph) and descending at a rate of more than 4,000 feet (1,219 meters) per minute when it slammed into the hillside and ignited, scattering debris over an area the size of a football field. The victims died immediately.

The investigators said that videos and photos from the public depicted fog and low clouds obscuring the hilltops. NTSB investigator Bill English said the "weather did not sneak up on the pilot", and board members said that he had an easy alternative of landing at nearby Van Nuys Airport.

The board said that Zobayan "likely" felt self-induced pressure to get Bryant and his daughter Gianna to a basketball game at Bryant's Mamba Sports Academy. It found no evidence that Bryant pressured the pilot.

The group had flown to the same destination the previous day, and Zobayan had flown Bryant along that route at least 10 times in 2019.

Zobayan was the chief pilot for Island Express Helicopters Inc and had 8,500 hours of flight experience and about 10 years' experience of flying in the area where the craft crashed, the NTSB said during the hearing.

Island Express, which owned and operated the helicopter for charter flights, has said that foggy weather before the helicopter hit the ground was an act of God and has sued the Federal Aviation Administration, blaming its air traffic controllers for the crash.

But investigators said the air controllers weren't to blame for the crash. The agency cited Island Express for inadequate review and oversight of safety matters.

Vanessa Bryant, the widow of the 41-year-old retired Los Angeles Lakers icon, has blamed the pilot. She and relatives of the other victims also have faulted Island Express.

After the hearing, the NTSB issued 13 findings of fact, including that the pilot lost visual references in the clouds, made a poor decision to fly at excessive speed and experienced spatial disorientation.

The six other passengers killed were Payton Chester, 13; Sarah Chester, 45; Alyssa Altobelli, 14; Keri Altobelli, 46; John Altobelli, 56; and Christina Mauser, 38.

Agencies contributed to this story.

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