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Federal investigators are recommending major helicopter safety changes, including more pilot training and readily available technology, after concluding the crash that killed basketball legend Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter and seven others was entirely preventable .
In four hours of testimony and deliberations, the National Transportation Safety Board said Island Express charter pilot Ara Zobayan violated flight rules in inclement weather, climbed into clouds, lost the helicopter's orientation with respect to the horizon and made a downward turn To the left. Youon a hillside in Calabasas, California, obscured by cloudslast year.
"Even good pilots can get into bad situations," NTSB President Robert Sumwalt said Tuesday, drawing attention to the pilot's decision to continue the flight despite the weather. He said the helicopter could have landed at a nearby airport, some 12 miles away, or even in a parking lot "to the point where [the pilot] went into the clouds."
"This pilot really wanted to get where he was going," said NTSB Vice President Bruce Landsberg. He called the incident an accident rather than an accident.
“An accident (is) simply something unforeseen, something unforeseeable, so to speak. Unfortunately, that was not the case,” said Landsberg.
The five-member panel unanimously recommended that chartered helicopter pilots receive more simulator and scenario-based training on the flight phenomenon known as spatial disorientation.
He also reiterated an earlier recommendation that turbine-powered helicopters, such as the Sikorsky S-76B that Zobayan flew, should be equipped with crash-proof flight data, voice and image recording devices. Investigators stressed that the helicopter was previously fitted with a voice recorder in the cockpit, which could have aided the investigation but has since been removed.
"We believe that if certain recommendations are implemented, the likelihood of an accident will decrease," Sumwalt told CNN at a press conference after the meeting.
The responsibility then rests with Federal Aviation Administration regulators, as well as helicopter charter companies and pilots, to act on the recommendations. Sumwalt said he and his colleagues "will continue to push like crazy for these recommendations to be implemented."
The FAA responded with a statement that it "takes the NTSB's recommendations very seriously and will provisionally respond within 90 days."
At the meeting, investigators said the pilot may have felt pressure to perform for a high-profile client and continued flying in increasingly poor weather conditions. Zobayan developed a "very close" friendship with Bryant, said researcher Dujuan Sevillian, a relationship that "can lead to self-inflicted pressure" to fly in dangerous conditions.
NTSB board member Thomas Chapman dismissed the official conclusion that pressure played a role in the crash, although he acknowledged that pilots can deal with a "tendency to please the influential person" who hires them.
A representative of the Zobayan estate did not comment when contacted by CNN on Tuesday.
Investigators said he climbed what witnesses described as a "wall of clouds," possibly becoming disoriented and subconsciously turning into a slope obscured by clouds he knew were there.
"It's not that ... the pilot was flying, he didn't know where the hills were, and he ran into the side of a hill," NTSB President Robert Sumwalt said.
Island Express declined to comment to CNN on Tuesday.
Investigators said the helicopter was equipped to fly in the clouds with the pilot operating only with reference to instruments known as Instrument Flight Rules, or IFR, but the Island Express charter agreement with the FAA only allowed flights where the pilot can maintain contact. visually. with the ground, known as Visual Flight Rules or VFR.
"It looks like these flights should have been operated under IFR," Sumwalt said.
In the days after the crash, NTSB Board Member Jennifer Homendy criticized the FAA for failing to implement an earlier NTSB recommendation that this type of helicopter must carry a helicopter terrain detection and warning system. Sumwalt said Tuesday the NTSB now believes the system known as HTAWS did not prevent the crash.
All 9 people on board died.
The helicopter crashed into mountainous terrainfoggy conditionsin Calabasa. The passengers were en route from Orange County to Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks for a youth basketball game where Kobe Bryant would be coachingGiannaand two others on board wanted to play.
In addition to Bryant, 41, and Gianna, 13, the crash claimed the lives of teammates Payton Chester, 13, and Alyssa Altobelli, 14; Payton's mother, Sarah Chester, 45; Alyssa's parents, Keri Altobelli, 46, and John Altobelli, 56; assistant coach Christina Mauser, 38; and Pilot Zobayan, 50.
the neun an Borddied of blunt force trauma, and the manner of death was accidental, according to the Coroner's Office.
Bryant, an 18-time All Star who won five NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, has made several trips to Thousand Oaks as a fitness instructor.
The pilot appeared to be disoriented in the fog, previous documents show
Weather and visibility were an issue before the flight and Zobayan discussed the plan to proceed in agroup messageBefore the trip,NTSB documents released last year show this. Visibility was so poor that morning that the Los Angeles Police Departmentdecided to land their helicopters.
During the flight, the pilot seemed to lose his bearings in the fog, whatDocuments released by the NTSB last yearshow.
During the flight, Zobayan told an air traffic controller in a final memo that he would climb to 4,000 feet to clear the clouds, the NTSB said.said last year.
Radar showed the ship rising to about 2,300 feet above sea level at about 9:45 a.m. and turning left before descending at high speed. went off the radar at about 1,200 feet near the crash siteNTSB had said.
The first 911 call for the flight came in at 9:47 a.m., Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said.
The helicopter crashed into a hillside in Calabasas and scattered parts were found up to 600 feet away, the NTSB said days after the incident.
on oneFebruary 2020 updateNTSB on the accident investigation, the board said there was no evidence of engine failure. In the same month he published a preliminary reportemphasizes the cloudy weatherin the area that day.
On the life of Bryant, Vanessa,sued the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and Sheriff VillanuevaAfter the accident, more than eight police officers took photos of the crime scene and the deceased victims. A leak from the department prompted TMZ to break the news, and fans flocked to the site.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law a privacy statute in September that would make it illegal for first responders to share photographs of a deceased person at a crime scene "for any purpose other than an official law enforcement purpose."
Under the new Kobe Bryant Act, which went into effect this year, a first responder convicted of a misdemeanor can be fined up to $1,000 per violation.
CNN's Jason Hanna and Stella Chan contributed to this report.