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Feds Find 'Telltale Signs' in Kobe Helicopter Crash

The pilot may have 'misperceived' the angles
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 17, 2020 7:09 PM CDT
Updated Jun 18, 2020 1:00 AM CDT

(Newser) – The pilot of the helicopter that crashed in thick fog, killing Kobe Bryant and seven other passengers, reported he was climbing when he actually was heading for the ground, federal investigators said in documents released Wednesday, per the AP. Ara Zobayan radioed to air traffic controllers that he was climbing to 4,000 feet to get above clouds on Jan. 26 when, in fact, the chopper was plunging toward a hillside where it crashed northwest of Los Angeles, killing all nine people aboard. The report by the National Transportation Safety Board said Zobayan may have "misperceived" the angles at which he was descending and banking, which can happen when a pilot becomes disoriented in low visibility.

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"Calculated apparent angles at this time show that the pilot could have misperceived both pitch and roll angles," one report stated. "During the final descent the pilot, responding to (air traffic control), stated that they were 'climbing to four thousand.'" John Cox, an aviation safety consultant, said the helicopter's erratic flight path—the aircraft slowed, climbed, then banked to one side while sinking rapidly—are telltale signs of a pilot becoming disoriented in conditions that make it hard to see terrain or the horizon. "He is not the first person to experience it," Cox said. "It's a significant cause of accidents." The 1,700 pages of reports do not offer a conclusion of what caused the crash but compile factual reports. A final report on the cause is due later.

(Read more Kobe Bryant stories.)

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