NTSB: Kobe Bryant’s pilot disoriented in clouds

Investigators say the pilot in the helicopter crash that killed NBA legend Kobe Bryant violated federal standards and likely became disoriented while flying in cloudy conditions.

National Transportation Safety Board chairman Robert Sumwalt made that announcement in his opening remarks at a board meeting on Tuesday morning to discuss the Jan. 26, 2020 accident in Calabasas, Calif. The crash claimed the lives of Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others, including the pilot, Ara Zobayan.

Kobe Bryant memorial
Feb 1, 2020 – A Kobe Bryant jersey is displayed during a memorial honoring Kobe and his daughter Gianna Bryant. (Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports)

“He was flying under visual flight rules (VFR), which legally prohibited him from penetrating clouds,” Sumwalt said. “However, he continued this VFR flight through the clouds, into instrument meteorological conditions.”

Why Did Pilot Violate Standards?

The NTSB scheduled Tuesday’s long-awaited virtual board meeting in order to adopt a final report on the crash.

“We will look at whether the pilot faced any pressure to complete the flight, and if so, where those pressures originated,” Sumwalt said. “What were the expectations of the pilot under company policy? Did he put pressure on himself? What actions could he have taken to have avoided flying into the clouds?



“We will discuss the phenomenon of spatial disorientation, the powerful, misleading sensations that can confuse a pilot conducting a visual flight who loses visual references, and what types of training can be effective in countering this effect.”

Bryant was a five-time NBA champion and three-time NBA Finals MVP during his 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers. He was elected posthumously to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

–Field Level Media (@FieldLevelMedia)