It’s been just over a year since the deaths of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna Bryant, and seven others in a tragic helicopter crash.
It’s still shocking to recall the fateful incident that abruptly ended the life of one of our most prominent athletes. There was a lot of confusion and uproar surrounding the event, raising questions of why the helicopter crashed and how the news leaked to the press so quickly. These questions led to lawsuits, proposed legislation, and investigations into the crash.
On Tuesday, the National Transportation Safety Board held a livestream to present the findings of their investigation. Previously, reports had come out that the basketball legend had deliberately changed the flight time for an earlier departure. Other reports suggested that the pilot, Ara Zobayan, became disoriented while flying through fog.
Per TMZ, the NTSB stated in their findings:
“There was no evidence that [helicopter company] Island Express, the air charter broker or the client [Kobe Bryant] placed pressure on the pilot to accept the charter flight request or complete the flight and adverse weather.”
In other words, even if Kobe had requested an earlier-than-scheduled flight time, it was the pilot’s responsibility to decline in the event of bad weather. The investigators noted that Zobayan had a long professional relationship with Kobe, who had previously trusted him enough to fly his children even when he wasn’t present. They commented:
“This type of relationship that he had with the client can lead to self-induced pressure during the en-route portion of the flight.”
Unfortunately, the NTSB’s findings showed that the pilot had ample opportunity to prevent the tragedy that cost him his life. According to NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt, Zobayan broke the law in the first place when deciding to fly in poor visual conditions (against regulations known as VFR, or “visual flight rules.”)
The board also identified multiple opportunities Zobayan had to land the aircraft before the situation became dire. (This includes landing at Van Nuys airport, which was nearby the crash site.) Unfortunately, he continued on, and began experiencing “Spatial Disorientation,” a condition in which made the pilot believe he was ascending over the fog when he was actually descending rapidly.
Perhaps most tragically, investigators also believed that Zobayan “ignored key parts of his training that could have saved the helicopter, even in those final minutes,” per TMZ.
The NTSB presented a few solutions that could possibly prevent this from happening again in the future: implementing programs to identify and prevent Spatial Disorientation, and having a second pilot in the cockpit.
Sadly, there’s no way to change the damage that has already been done. There’s also no way to know what was going through Zobayan’s mind as his litany of mistakes added up to an unimaginable tragedy. He was a victim of the crash alongside his passengers, and there’s no justice to be had in this situation.
The best we can hope for is that this investigation leads to better safety measures that protect pilots and passengers in the future.
[Image via Adriana M. Barraza/WENN]