NTSB: Kobe Bryant's Helicopter Pilot Likely Violated Rules, Became Disoriented

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistFebruary 9, 2021

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant looks on against the Denver Nuggets in the first quarter of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
David Zalubowski/Associated Press

The National Transportation Safety Board determined Tuesday that Ara Zobayan likely violated rules by flying through clouds while piloting a helicopter that was carrying Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant last year.

According to Stefanie Dazio and Brian Melley of the Associated Press, investigators said Zobayan was flying under visual flight rules but likely violated regulations by passing through clouds, which may have caused him to become disoriented before the helicopter crashed.

The 41-year-old Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and all seven other people on board died when the helicopter crashed in Calabasas, California, on Jan. 26, 2020.

Per the NTSB, Zobayan nearly broke through the clouds before the copter "banked abruptly," causing it to plummet to the ground.

Kobe's widow, Vanessa Bryant, initially filed wrongful death lawsuits against Zobayan and his employer, Island Express, in February 2020. She later filed an amended lawsuit by adding OC Helicopter as a defendant.

OC Helicopter was the the agency responsible for arranging many helicopter trips for the Bryant family over the years, per ESPN's John Barr.

According to Dazio and Melley, Zobayan's brother, Berge Zobayan, said Kobe Bryant knew the dangers of riding in a helicopter and that the Bryant family shouldn't be entitled to any of Zobayan's estate.

Also, Island Express said it shouldn't be held responsible for the deaths since the crash was caused by an "act of God."

Barr noted that the families of the other passengers all filed wrongful death lawsuits against Island Express as well, alleging that Island Express and Zobayan were "not authorized to fly under instrument flight rules conditions."

In addition to Kobe and Gianna Bryant, John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli, Christina Mauser, Sarah Chester and Payton Chester died in the crash.

The helicopter was heading to Mamba Sports Academy in Newbury Park, California, where Gianna and her teammates, Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester, were scheduled to take part in a basketball game.


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