Kobe Bryant Helicopter Crash: Investigators Reveal Pilot Was Disoriented In Clouds

One year after Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna Bryant and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash, investigators shared new findings on the fatal January 2020 flight.

By Jess Cohen Feb 09, 2021 6:06 PMTags
Watch: Kobe Bryant Helicopter Crash: NTSB Rules on Cause

Investigators have shared their findings in the fatal helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and eight others—including his teenage daughter Gianna Bryant.

During a virtual meeting with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) on Feb. 9, investigators said that the pilot of the helicopter, Ara Zobayan, appeared to violate federal standards and is likely to have experienced "spatial disorientation" while flying through clouds on the foggy morning of Jan. 26, 2020. This disorientation, as described by NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt at the hearing, is "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."

The Los Angeles Lakers legend was onboard a Sikorsky S-76B helicopter with Gianna, who was just 13 years old at the time of her death, and seven other individuals heading from Orange County to his Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, Calif., when the crash occurred. 

According to investigators at the hearing, during the climb and subsequent dissent, the pilot communicated with air traffic control on numerous occasions but did not declare an emergency. The excessive speed entering the cloud at the rapid rate of decline and the left turn were inconsistent with his training, investigators said during the meeting.

One month after the crash, in February 2020, Vanessa filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Island Express Helicopters. E! News obtained court documents, which argued that Island Express, agents and employees and the pilot, had a "duty to use that degree of care that an ordinarily careful and prudent pilot would use under the same or similar circumstances."

Kobe Bryant: Life in Photos

In response to the lawsuit, a spokesperson for Island Express Helicopters told E! News, "This was a tragic accident. We will have no comment on the pending litigation."

In May 2020, four months after the crash killed all nine people onboard, the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner determined the cause of death for all of the passengers—including Alyssa AltobelliKeri AltobelliJohn AltobelliChristina MauserPayton Chester and Sarah Chester to be blunt trauma and the manner of death was accidental.

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On the one-year anniversary of the crash, Vanessa Bryant took to social media to share a letter she received from one of Gianna's best friends, Aubrey. In the letter, Aubrey reflected on Gianna's "love of life" and told Vanessa, "You did it right Mrs. Bryant, and we are all eternally grateful to you." 

In response to Aubrey's kind words, Vannessa—who is also mom to daughters Natalia, 18, Bianka, 4, Capri, 19 months—wrote, "I love you Aubz (as my Gigi would call you). Thank you so much for beautifully sharing some of your memories of my Gigi with me and allowing me to share them here on my ig. My Gigi is INCREDIBLE and I truly appreciate your thoughtful letter. She loves you so much."

"I miss my baby girl and Kob-Kob so much, too," she continued. "I will never understand why/how this tragedy could've happened to such beautiful, kind and amazing human beings. It still doesn't seem real. Kob, we did it right. Gigi, you still make mommy proud. I love you!"