What’s Still Unknown About Kobe Bryant’s Helicopter Crash
Last week, the NTSB released the preliminary report on the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others.
In the report, it was revealed that pilot Ara Zobayan told air traffic control that he was going to climb up to 4,000 feet to get above the cloud layer. The logs, however, note that Zobayan only got to 2,300 feet and then turned left into the clouds.
It is unclear why Zobayan began a left turn at 2,300 feet. Once he turned left, a rapid descent happened. The report also noted the helicopter showed no signs of engine failure, ruling out that possibility as a cause for the crash.
More than a week ago, NTSB spokesperson Jennifer Homendy told reporters that the chopper was descending at a rate of 2,000 feet per minute, causing a “high-energy” impact.
In the preliminary report, it noted that Zobayan worked for Island Express for 10 years and logged “8,200 total hours of flight experience.” According to his most recent flight review from May 2019, he “received satisfactory grades” for “proficiency training in inadvertent entry into instrument meteorological conditions(IMC)and unusual attitude recovery.”
Instrument meteorological conditions describes weather conditions that require pilots to fly by instrument flight rules rather than visual flight roles.
The NTSB wrote that pilot Ara Zobayan was navigating the flight with on-demand visual flight rules from John Wayne Airport to Camarillo Airport.
The New York Times recently reported that Island Express Helicopters, which owned the Sikorsky S-76B, did not have the necessary federal certification for its pilots to fly under instrument flight rules.
On his fatal flight, Zobayan asked for “flight following,” in which air traffic controllers help navigate, as the weather conditions became poor.
In the moments leading up to the crash, Zobayan lost contact with air traffic control, based on the radio recordings reviewed by the Los Angeles Times. The reason for the loss of communication is still unknown.
Before the communications ended, an air traffic controller told Zobayan, “Still too low for flight following.” That's when Zobayan attempted to fly up to 4,000 feet.
A detailed follow-up report from the NTSB will be issued in 12 to 18 months. The official cause of the crash is still being determined.
NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt said in a statement, “Our investigators have already developed a substantial amount of evidence about the circumstances of this tragic crash. And we are confident that we will be able to determine its cause as well as any factors that contributed to it so we can make safety recommendations to prevent accidents like this from occurring again.”