Pilot in Kobe Bryant Helicopter Crash Had Been Disciplined by FAA over Weather-Related Flight Violation
The helicopter that was carrying Kobe Bryant did not have the recommended warning system to alert the pilot he was too close to land. But, according to a KTLA news report, it’s not clear that the system would have helped avert the crash that killed nine including Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna. The chopper plunged into a mountain near Calabasas on a foggy morning when the group was headed to Bryant’s Mamba Academy in Thousand Oaks for a basketball game.
Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) who are looking into what caused this devastating helicopter accident said that the pilot, Ara Zobayan, had been climbing out of the clouds when the aircraft banked left and began a sudden and terrifying 1,200-foot descent that lasted nearly a minute. Investigators described this as a “high-energy impact crash.” The helicopter was intact when it hit the ground, but the impact spread debris over more than 500 feet.
The seven others who were killed in this devastating crash were Zobayan, John Altobelli, 56, his wife Keri, and daughter Alyssa; Sara Chester, 45, and Chester’s 13-year-old daughter Payton; and Christina Mauser who helped Bryant coach his daughter’s team.
Determining the cause of the crash could take several months as investigators piece together all the evidence. Investigators may again recommend that to avoid future crashes, helicopters carrying six or more passengers be equipped with a Terrain Awareness and Warning System, which would have sounded an alarm if the aircraft was in danger of crashing. The NTSB made a similar recommendation after a Sikorsky S-76A – similar to Bryant’s helicopter – crashed in the Gulf of Mexico near Galveston, Texas, killing all on board in 2004. That chopper was carrying workers to an offshore drilling ship.
While this particular system was not installed in the helicopter Bryant and the others were in, the aircraft did have a warning system using GPS. Zobayan also made the decision to fly the helicopter without instruments. In Zobayan’s last radio transmission before the chopper went down, he reported that he was climbing to avoid a cloud layer.
The Federal Aviation Administration warns helicopter pilots that it’s their job to decide to cancel a flight due to bad weather and to have a backup plan in case the weather takes a turn for the worse. But commercial pilots who fly helicopters for celebrities say they try not to ground helicopters because it gives the appearance they can’t do their jobs and fear that their job could go to someone else. Those who knew Zobayan told KTLA that he was skilled, experience and unflappable under pressure. Investigators are also looking at other factors that may have caused the crash including mechanical failure and human error.
Our Newport Beach personal injury law firm offers our deepest condolences to the families of all the victims. This is a devastatingly shocking and tragic incident that has reverberated throughout the world. We will be closely following the investigation case. We pray for peace and comfort for everyone who is grieving this tremendous loss.