Feds to name likely cause of Kobe Bryant helicopter crash

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FILE - In this June 7, 2009, file photo, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (24) points to a player behind him after making a basket in the closing seconds against the Orlando Magic in Game 2 of the NBA basketball finals in Los Angeles. Federal safety officials are expected to vote Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021, on what likely caused the helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter and seven others to crash into a Southern California hillside last year, killing all aboard. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, file)

LOS ANGELES – In the year since the helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant crashed into a hillside on a foggy morning, killing all nine aboard, there’s been plenty of finger-pointing over the cause of the tragedy.

Bryant’s widow blamed the pilot. She and families of other victims also faulted the companies that owned and operated the helicopter. The brother of the pilot didn’t blame Bryant but said he knew the risks of flying. The helicopter companies said the weather was an act of God and blamed air traffic controllers.

On Tuesday, federal safety officials are expected to announce the long-awaited probable cause of the crash that unleashed worldwide grief for the retired basketball star, launched several lawsuits and prompted state and federal legislation.

“I think the whole world is watching because it’s Kobe,” said Ed Coleman, an Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University professor and safety science expert.

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.

Pilot Ara Zobayan climbed sharply and had nearly broken through the clouds when the Sikorsky S-76 helicopter banked abruptly and plunged into the Calabasas hills below, killing all nine aboard instantly before flames engulfed the wreckage.

There was no sign of mechanical failure, and it was believed to be an accident, the National Transportation Safety Board has said.

The board is likely to make nonbinding recommendations to prevent future crashes when it meets remotely Tuesday.