More information about what led to the January 26th helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others is coming to light after the National Transportation Safety Board released its preliminary report on Friday.
One interesting, and ultimately tragic, detail in the report is that pilot Ara Zabayan was just 100 feet from clearing the thick clouds and fog that disoriented him.
Zobayan told air traffic controllers he was bringing the helicopter up 4,000 feet above sea level, and reached 2,300 feet. That was just 100 feet from the top of the clouds, according to camera footage the NTSB saw. Instead of continuing to climb, the helicopter began to drop at a high speed and Zobayan took a left turn into the terrain. The helicopter hit the hillside at over 180 mph and it was descending 4,000 feet per minute.
“If you exit the bottom of the clouds at 4,000 feet per minute at that high speed, you’ve certainly lost control of the aircraft,” air safety consultant Kipp Lau told the Associated Press.
He said that at the helicopter’s speed, it was just 12 seconds from emerging above the clouds.
“Once you break out of the clouds, it’s clear. Everything lines up with the body,” Lau said. “Now you have a real horizon.”
Mike Sagely, a helicopter pilot in the Los Angeles area with 35 years of flying experience, said the aircraft’s last minutes suggest Zobayan had started to execute a maneuver designed to pop above the clouds by flying up and forward.
“When he went into the clouds, he had a full-on emergency,” Sagely said.
When pilots try to turn instead of sticking with the pop-up maneuver, “probably in the neighborhood of 80 to 90% of the time, it’s catastrophic,”
The NTSB report also concluded that there was no engine failure and the crash was likely the result of pilot error.
Additionally, there was an eye witness just 50 feet from where the helicopter impacted the terrain who told what he saw.
“He said he began to hear the sound of a helicopter, which he described as appropriate for a helicopter flying while in a powered condition. He perceived the sound getting louder and saw a blue and white helicopter emerge from the clouds,” the report said.
“He judged it to be moving fast, travelling on a forward and descending trajectory. It started to roll to the left such that he caught a glimpse of its belly. He observed it for seconds 1 to 2 seconds, before it impacted terrain about 50 feet below his position.”