Kobe Bryant Pilot May Have Been Confused in Clouds Before Crash

The pilot of a helicopter carrying retired basketball star Kobe Bryant may have become disoriented in clouds as the craft abruptly turned and dove to the ground near Los Angeles earlier this year, killing all aboard, investigators said.

A preliminary analysis of the final moments of the flight released by theNational Transportation Safety Board on Wednesday found the veteran pilot may have “misperceived” whether the nose was pointed up or down and how the craft had become tilted sharply to the left.

During the final high-speed descent, the pilot told air traffic controllers that they were “climbing to four thousand” feet when they were actually falling, the NTSB said in one of the investigative reports released Wednesday.

The new information, contained in a public docket consisting of more than 1,000 pages of reports, doesn’t conclude what caused the January 26 crash. Bryant, the legendaryLos Angeles Lakers guard, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others died in the high-velocity impact.

The Sikorsky S-76B helicopter entered thick clouds that obscured hills and its pilot lost control and crashed into the ground, the NTSB has said previously. Wreckage from the crash site suggested that the helicopter’s engines were operating during the rapid descent, a sign that would rule out engine failure as a factor in the crash.

Island Express Helicopters Inc., the California-based charter company that operated the chopper, had been involved in four previous crashes over the past 35 years, two of them fatal, according to government records.

Ara Zobayan, the pilot in the crash, had 8,577 total flight hours, according to NTSB. While he had been cited for violating federal flight rules in 2015, he had taken additional training and continued to fly without punishment. There was no evidence of drugs or alcohol in his system after the crash, the NTSB said.

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