The head of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday that the pilot of the helicopter that crashed and killed basketball superstar Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others apparently violated federal safety standards by flying into clouds.
The Sikorsky S-76B helicopter was taking the passengers to a youth basketball tournament amid heavy fog in January 2020 when it crashed into hilly terrain outside Los Angeles.
NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt made the revelation at the beginning of a meeting to determine the likely cause of the crash.
Pilots can experience “spatial disorientation” when they are unable to see the sky or landscape around them, NTSB investigator-in-charge Bill English said.
The board said in June that Pilot Ara Zobayan told air traffic controllers the helicopter was climbing out of heavy clouds when it was, instead, descending immediately before crashing into a hillside near the town of Calabasas.
Some attendees at the hearing traded blame for the crash. Bryant’s widow, Vanessa Bryant, faulted the pilot, while she and relatives of the other victims blamed the companies that owned and operated the aircraft.
While not blaming the former Los Angeles Lakers’ star directly, the pilot’s brother said Bryant was aware of the risks of flying.
The helicopter companies blamed the air traffic controllers and argued that foggy conditions before the helicopter hit the ground was an act of God.
Board members could give recommendations Tuesday for how to prevent similar disasters in the future.
The NTSB previously said there was no sign of mechanical failure on the helicopter, and that the crash is believed to be an accident.
While the NTSB is an independent federal agency that investigates transportation-related accidents, it has no enforcement authority.
The deaths of the 18-time National Basketball Association all-star and the other passengers sparked an outpouring of shock and grief from sports fans worldwide.
The crash triggered several lawsuits and led to the passage of state and federal legislation.