Kobe Bryant’s Helicopter Crash Cause Revealed

On Jan. 25, 2020, the world lost Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, in a helicopter crash that killed them and seven other passengers. U.S. safety investigators have been working to determine the cause of the crash, and on Feb. 9, 2021, they reported that pilot Ara Zobayan, who also died in the accident, had violated federal safety guidelines by flying through cloudy conditions with low visibility despite not being qualified to do so. There was already a thick fog in the area when the pilot made the risky decision to fly the route as planned anyway, which likely left him “disoriented,” according to details obtained by the Daily Mail

According to visual flight rules, Zobayan “needed to be able to see where he was going” in order to pilot, per NBA’s report. But as he flew through the clouds, Zobayan “didn’t know which way was up,” officials said (per Daily Mail). While the pilot’s windshield was covered in a sea of white, he climbed upward to attempt to break through the clouds, but when he was almost in the clear, the helicopter “banked abruptly” or returned to a horizonal position before plummeting down to the Southern California hills, per the NBA.

At the time of the crash, Bryant and the other passengers on board were traveling from Orange County, Calif., to Ventura County for a basketball tournament at Mamba Sports Academy. Keep scrolling for more details on why Zobayan made such a risky flight choice.

Kobe Bryant's helicopter pilot was under 'self-induced pressure'

On the morning of the helicopter crash that left Kobe and Gianna Bryant dead, other air traffic was grounded because of the foggy weather conditions. So why did pilot Ara Zobayan choose to take his passengers into the air anyway? Previously, investigators hadn’t ruled out the possibility that Zobayan was under pressure from his helicopter company, Island Express, or maybe even from Kobe himself.

At a virtual meeting hosted by the National Transportation Safety Board on Feb. 9, 2021, officials determined that Zobayan was likely acting on his own desire to please his client, rather than any outside pressure. His friendship with Bryant may have gotten in the way of his better judgment, with NTSB member Dr. Dujuan B. Sevillian stating “self-induced pressure” to fulfill Bryant’s request could impair a pilot’s “decision making,” per Daily Mail.

Even after taking off, officials said, Zobayan abandoned his training when he found himself in danger, choosing to continue with the original route rather than declare an emergency or turn the helicopter around. 

“I’m really saddened by this crash and we use the term crash rather than accident and I think it’s important to understand the distinction. An accident is just something that’s unforeseen, unpredictable, if you will,” NTSB Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg said during the meeting, per Daily Mail. “Unfortunately, this wasn’t. We pretty well know what happened. We have a very good idea of why it happened and we absolutely know how to prevent it.”

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