Feb. 9 (UPI) -- Spatial disorientation is the probable cause of the helicopter crash last year in Southern California that killed Kobe Bryant and eight others aboard, officials said Tuesday.
Ara Zobayan, the pilot of the Sikorsky S-76 helicopter, that crashed into the Southern California hillside on Jan. 26, 2020, suffered spatial disorientation while flying through clouds and dense morning fog, National Transportation Safety Board members said Tuesday during a virtual meeting.
Zobayan should have ascended straight up while attempting to climb out of the bad weather instead of banking to the left, investigators said Tuesday.
Investigator Bill English said Zobayan told air traffic control he was "climbing 4,000 feet" to get above the clouds, but he was experiencing spatial disorientation because he banked to the left.
Another investigator, Dr. Dujuan Sevillian, added that the chopper's acceleration could have caused the pilot to sense the aircraft was climbing when it was not.
"Our inner ear can give us a false sense of orientation," Sevillian said, adding that lack of visual cues while surrounded by clouds worsens the problem.
The NTSB also said that the helicopter involved did not have crash-proof flight and voice recorders it had recommended, though such features were not required.
The helicopter headed from Orange County to Camarillo for a youth basketball tournament carried Bryant and his daughter Gianna, 13, along with college baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife, Keri, and daughter Alyssa, assistant girls basketball coach Christina Mauser, Sarah Chester, her daughter Payton, and the pilot.
"On behalf of all of us at NTSB, I offer our sincerest condolences to the family and friends of all those who were lost in the crash," Sumwalt said in his opening statement. "Please understand that the reason for our investigation of this tragedy, and thus, for today's meeting, is to learn from this tragic accident, to prevent the same thing from happening again."