On Tuesday, U.S. investigators revealed that the pilot in the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his 13-year old daughter Gianna Bryant and six other passengers last year flew into clouds. This was done in violation of federal rules and the pilot likely grew disoriented while flying through the fog in Southern California.
Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, Robert Sumwalt said pilot Ara Zobayan was flying under rules that prohibited him from flying his aircraft into clouds. Investigators reported that Zobayan was attempting to climb above the clouds as his aircraft was falling, and this revealed he was disoriented.
“This weather did not sneak up on the pilots,” Bill English, the lead investigator on the case told board members. “He said the plane crashed minutes away from an airport where he could have landed. It was clear Zobayan did not reference his instruments and did not understand them or trust them, investigators saod.
Bryant and Zobayan had a close relationship. Zobayan flew the basketball superstar and his children many times. Investigators believe that their close relationship could have urged the pilot to want to complete the flight despite the deteriorating weather conditions involved.
Going forward, the board is likely to make nonbinding recommendations for aircraft to prevent future crashes. The NTSB is an independent federal agency that investigates transportation-related crashes. While they can make recommendations, they have no enforcement powers.
These suggestions can be submitted to agencies such as the Federal Aviation Administration or the Coast Guard, though they have repeatedly rejected some board safety recommendations after other disasters.
One possible recommendation includes for helicopters to have terrain awareness and warning systems, devices that signal when aircraft are in danger and could potentially crash.
The helicopter Bryant and others were flying in did not have the system. It is recommended to be mandatory for helicopters, but the Federal Aviation Administration requires it only for air ambulances.