The NTSB says "spatial disorientation" may be to blame.

By Stacey Leasca
February 09, 2021
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The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced Tuesday that the helicopter crash that killed basketball icon Kobe Bryant along with his daughter Gigi, and seven others last year was likely caused by the pilot's "spatial disorientation."

Ara Zobayan, the pilot of the Island Express helicopter, attempted to fly above the cloud cover which caused him to lose his bearings on the Jan. 26, 2020 flight, before sharply banking and crashing into a hillside in Calabasas. According to the NTSB, there was no sign of mechanical failure and the pilot could have been under self-induced pressure to finish the flight in "adverse weather."

"The pilot took pride in these positions with both the client and Island Express," an official stated, according to Fox News. "They had a good relationship with the client and likely did not want to disappoint them by not completing the flight. This self-induced pressure can adversely affect pilot decision-making and judgment."

Kobe and Gianna Bryant
Kobe and Gianna Bryant at a basketball game in 2019.
| Credit: Getty Images

An NTSB official also noted, the pilot was not under outside pressure from his client, Bryant, to make the trip.

"The resulting descent and acceleration were conducive for the pilot to experience a somatogravic illusion in which he would incorrectly perceive that the helicopter was climbing when it was descending. The helicopter continued this steep descent the pilot was either not referencing the instruments or having difficulty interpreting or believing them due to the compelling vestibular illusions and he did not successfully recover the helicopter," the NTSB official added.

Following the crash, Vanessa Bryant, Bryant's widow, blamed the pilot, however, Island Express has maintained that the accident was an "act of God" and blamed air traffic controllers for the tragedy.

The helicopter contained no black box recording of the moments before the crash as it is not required on helicopters.

Beyond investigating the crash, the board is also expected to release its recommendations to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to hopefully help avoid crashes like this in the future.

According to CBS, one of its recommendations will likely be to require all helicopters to come with a warning system that will alert the pilot if the aircraft is in danger of crashing, something the helicopter Bryant flew in went without as it's not currently required for helicopters beyond air ambulances.