Kobe Bryant Crash Final Report: What Caused the Helicopter to Go Down?

kobe bryant crash report cause

Getty A view of a mural of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna Bryant by artist AiseBorn on January 26, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.

The cause of the helicopter crash that claimed the lives of Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna Bryant, and seven others was one that commonly occurs with pilots: he felt unnecessary pressure to fly despite questionable weather, according to a final report issued by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Kobe Bryant and Gianna were on their way to a youth basketball tournament with friends, their family members and a coach when the helicopter crashed into a hillside January 26, 2020. There were no survivors. The deceased were Gianna Bryant’s friends and teammates, Alyssa Altobelli, 14, and Payton Chester, 13, their parents, John Altobelli, 56, Keri Altobelli, 46, and Sarah Chester, 45, coach Christina Mauser, 39, and pilot Ara Zobayan, 50.

The tragic crash is back in the news for a trial that started August 10, 2022, regarding photos graphic photos from the crash.

Here’s what you need to know:

A National Transportation Safety Board Investigative Update Says Fog & Low Clouds Obscured Hills When Kobe Bryant’s Helicopter Crashed

Photos in a National Transportation Safety Board investigative update show the low cloud cover obscuring the hillside on the morning of January 26, 2020, at the time Kobe Bryant, his daughter, Gianna Bryant, and seven others died in a fiery helicopter crash. You can read the report in full here.

Pilot Ara Zobayan told air traffic control he would climb to 4,000 feet, above the cloud cover. It was his last transmission. The clouds were at about 1,100 feet, the report said. Instead of reaching altitude, the pilot climbed to about 2,300 feet, turned left and began descending at 4,000 feet per minute.

A report, summarized by the Los Angeles Times, said Zobayan may have thought he was ascending when he was actually descending. The report said he “could have misperceived both pitch and roll angles.” It added, “When a pilot misperceives altitude and acceleration it is known as the ‘somatogravic illusion’ and can cause spatial disorientation.”

The wreckage was located in the foothills of the Santa Monica mountains, in a mountain bike park. The helicopter left an impact crater that was 24 by 15 feet in diameter and 2 feet deep, the NTSB report said.

There Were No Signs of Mechanical Failure That Led to the Crash & No Drugs Were Listed as Contributing Factors

The pilot did not have drugs or alcohol in his system, his autopsy report said. The report noted that Bryant had a prescribed drug in his system, methylphenidate, which is sold under the brand name Ritalin for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy.

A report from the National Transportation Safety Board said there were no signs of mechanical failure in the Sikorsky S-76B. There were low clouds obscuring the hillside and fog. Text messages showed discussions about the weather in the hours leading up to the crash, but they determined it would be safe to fly. Read more about that here.

A press release from the NTSB issued in February 2021 said that the pilot executed “poor decision making” in the decision to fly. He experienced “spatial disorientation and loss of control” that led to the fatal crash, the press release said.

“Unfortunately, we continue to see these same issues influence poor decision making among otherwise experienced pilots in aviation crashes,” said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt. “Had this pilot not succumbed to the pressures he placed on himself to continue the flight into adverse weather, it is likely this accident would not have happened. A robust safety management system can help operators like Island Express provide the support their pilots need to help them resist such very real pressures.”

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