The pilot of the helicopter that crashed into a hillside with former National Basketball Association star Kobe Bryant aboard may have been disoriented by thick fog shortly prior to impact, according to a report by the United States’ National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
The NTSB report said Ara Zobayan might have “misperceived” the angles at which he was travelling when he reported he was climbing while the helicopter was actually descending. The crash on Jan 26 in Calabasas, California, killed Zobayan, Bryant and seven others.
The report states that when the pilot told air traffic controllers he was climbing to 4,000 feet to get above clouds, the helicopter was instead plunging in direction of the hillside.
“Calculated apparent angles at this time show that the pilot could have misperceived both pitch and roll angles,” the report stated. “During the final descent the pilot, responding to (air traffic control), stated that they were climbing to four thousand.”
The 1,700-page report did not list a conclusion for the cause of the crash. The NTSB said a final report will be released later.
A recent autopsy report on Zobayan said the helicopter was travelling at 184 mph (kmh) when it crashed into the hillside.
According to the NTSB report, the 50-year-old sent out a group text about 45 minutes before the flight to say weather was looking “OK”. The helicopter took off from John Wayne Airport in Orange County at 9:06am.
The eight passengers aboard had all flown on the helicopter to the same destination – a basketball tournament at the 41-year-old Bryant’s sports facility in Thousand Oaks – the previous day.
Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna,also died in the crash, as did two of her youth basketball teammates – 14-year-old Alyssa Altobelli and 13-year-old Payton Chester.
Others who perished were Altobelli’s parents, Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli, 56, and his wife Keri Altobelli, 46; Chester’s mother, Sarah Chester, 45; and assistant basketball coach Christina Mauser, 38.