US safety investigators said Tuesday the pilot of Kobe Bryant's helicopter flew through the clouds last year in an apparent violation of federal standards, likely becoming disoriented just before the helicopter crashed and killed Bryant and eight others, per the AP. Pilot Ara Zobayan was flying under visual flight rules, which meant he needed to be able to see where he was going, Robert Sumwalt, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said during a hearing to specify the likely cause or causes of the crash. Zobayan piloted the aircraft to climb sharply and had nearly broken through the clouds when the Sikorsky S-76 helicopter banked abruptly and plunged into the Southern California hills below. The helicopter didn't have so-called "black box" recording devices, which weren't required.
The federal hearing focused on the long-awaited probable cause or causes of the tragedy that unleashed worldwide grief for the retired basketball star, launched several lawsuits, and prompted state and federal legislation. Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and six other passengers were flying from Orange County to a youth basketball tournament at his Mamba Sports Academy in Ventura County on Jan. 26, 2020, when the helicopter encountered thick fog in the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles. The helicopter banked abruptly and plunged into the hills below, killing all nine aboard instantly before flames engulfed the wreckage. There was no sign of mechanical failure and the crash was believed to be an accident, the NTSB has said previously. (Bryant's widow sued over deputies' sharing of photos from the crash scene.)