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The Sports Report: Pilot’s poor decisions caused crash that killed Kobe Bryant

A tarp painted with Kobe Bryant's No. 24 where a helicopter crashed one year ago killing Bryant and eight others.
A tarp painted with Kobe Bryant’s No. 24 where a helicopter crashed one year ago killing Bryant and eight others.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Howdy, I’m your host, Houston Mitchell. Let’s get right to the news.

Richard Winton on the crash that killed Kobe Bryant: The pilot of a helicopter that crashed into a foggy Calabasas hillside one year ago, killing NBA legend Kobe Bryant and eight others aboard, should not have flown into cloudy conditions, where he became disoriented and lost control, federal investigators said Tuesday.

The National Transportation Safety Board determined the cause of the Jan. 26, 2020, crash was Ara Zobayan’s decision to fly under visual flight rules in cloudy conditions, which resulted in his spatial disorientation and loss of control of the aircraft. The board added that Zobayan’s “likely” self-induced pressure to get Bryant to his destination and inadequate review of safety management procedures by helicopter operator Island Express contributed to the crash.

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Flying under visual flight rules through cloud cover was “legally prohibited,” yet Zobayan “continued his flight into clouds,” NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said.

Zobayan, the NTSB noted, made a “poor decision” to fly at excessive speed in bad weather, and the helicopter was not in a controlled flight pattern when it crashed into the hillside near Las Virgenes Road and Willow Glen Street at 9:45 a.m.

NTSB member Michael Graham said Zobayan ignored his training, adding that as long as helicopters continue to fly into clouds while using visual flight rules “a certain percentage will not come out alive.”

Despite prior recommendations from the NTSB that helicopters be outfitted with crash-proof flight data and voice recorders, the Sikorsky that Bryant was flying on did not have such equipment. The Federal Aviation Administration did not require such features on the helicopter, nor was it required to have a safety management system.

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NTSB investigator Bill English told the board that Zobayan informed air traffic control that he was “climbing to 4,000 feet” to get above the clouds. But English said the pilot was experiencing spatial disorientation because the helicopter banked to the left, away from the 101 Freeway, while communicating with the controller that it had descended.

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UCLA

Ben Bolch on the Bruins: UCLA’s athletic department, having doubled down on debt in the wake of a record shortfall, is facing a far bigger money crunch.

The Bruins’ $21.7-million deficit for the 2020 fiscal year, which brought their two-year deficit to $40.6 million, might seem like pocket change compared with how much deeper they are poised to plunge into the red.

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The dual punch of COVID-19 and a fractious divorce from Under Armour will wallop a 2021 budget that could drastically exacerbate the deficit, leaving the department in need of a sustained turnaround sparked by football and basketball success driving ticket sales and donations to help close the gap in future years.

“This past year was a challenging one financially in all of collegiate athletics, with UCLA athletics being no exception,” said a statement provided by an athletic department spokesperson. “The pandemic’s impact will be felt throughout the coming years, but we are committed to reaching long-term fiscal stability for our athletic program. We will continue to provide our student-athletes a championship experience on and off the field and build on our rich history of developing them for success in sports and in life.”

The deficits from each of the last two years, including an $18.9-million shortfall in 2019, will be covered by an interest-bearing loan from the university, according to a person close to the situation not authorized to comment publicly because of the private nature of the arrangement. New UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond declined to comment on the 2020 budget shortfall because he started July 1, the beginning of the 2021 fiscal year.

CHARGERS

Jeff Miller on the Chargers: Though Drew Brees is expected to retire this offseason, he figures to still impact the future of at least one team — the Chargers.

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Justin Herbert said Brees is among the quarterbacks he’ll connect with in the next few months as he continues his development after an award-winning rookie season.

Brees spent 12 seasons working with Joe Lombardi in New Orleans. For 10 of those years, Lombardi was the Saints’ quarterbacks coach.

Lombardi was hired last month to be the offensive coordinator under new Chargers head coach Brandon Staley.

Herbert and Brees already have history together, both training with the same personal coaches during the offseason.

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“Drew is definitely one of those guys I plan to reach out to,” Herbert said. “He’s been able to do it all.”

Brees, 42, was drafted by the Chargers in the second round in 2001 and spent his first five seasons with them. He joined the Saints as a free agent in March 2006, opening the starting job for Philip Rivers.

Herbert said Tuesday that he’ll attempt to talk to a few other veteran quarterbacks as well this offseason.

“I’m going to try not to bother them too much,” he said. “I’ve got a bunch of questions about how to watch film, how to prepare for defenses. There are things that I can always get better at.

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CLIPPERS

Andrew Greif on the Clippers: After missing eight consecutive games because of an injured right knee, Clippers guard Patrick Beverley traveled with the team to Minnesota to begin a two-game trip with the hope of returning to the court.

“That’s what we’re hoping,” coach Tyronn Lue said Tuesday before practice at Target Center.

Beverley also took part in an on-court workout before tipoff of Sunday’s loss to Sacramento, as he began ramping up toward a return, and worked out Monday as well, Lue said. The coach said Beverley is questionable to play against the Timberwolves.

“We got a practice today, so just kind of see how he reacts to that,” Lue said.

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Another star, Paul George, remained in Los Angeles to continue his recovery from swelling in the bone of a toe on his right foot.

KINGS

Logan Couture scored in a shootout after teammate Evander Kane tied the game with 44.3 seconds remaining in regulation, and the San Jose Sharks beat the Kings 4-3.

Couture also had a goal for the third straight game. Timo Meier scored and Martin Jones made 24 saves for the Sharks.

Dustin Brown had two goals and an assist for the Kings, who lost their fifth straight. Anze Kopitar also scored and Cal Petersen stopped 37 shots.

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Kane jammed in a rebound at 19:15 of the third period to tie it 3-all. Couture converted his attempt in the shootout and Jones saved two shots sandwiched around Kings forward Lias Andersson hitting the post.

Sharks forward Patrick Marleau played in his 1,734th game to break a tie with Jaromir Jagr for third-most in NHL history. The 41-year-old Marleau is 23 games behind Mark Messier in second place with 1,756 games.

DUCKS

Zach Whitecloud scored the first game-winning goal of his career late in the third period to lift the Vegas Golden Knights over the Ducks 5-4.

Chandler Stephenson, Jonathan Marchessault, Alex Tuch and Nicolas Roy also scored for Vegas. Marc-Andre Fleury, now 17-4-0 against the Ducks, improved to 5-0-0 this season after making 19 saves.

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The Golden Knights are 7-0-1 at home, earning 15 of 16 possible points.

Isac Lundestrom, Troy Terry, Adam Henrique and Ryan Getzlaf scored for Anaheim. Ryan Miller made 26 saves.

THIS DATE IN SPORTS

1908 — Tommy Burns knocks out Jack Palmer in the fourth round to defend his world heavyweight title in London.

1949 — Joe Fulks of Philadelphia scores 63 points in a 108-87 win over Indianapolis to set an NBA scoring record which would last for nearly a decade.

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1952 — The Baltimore Bullets play the 48-minute game without making a single substitution and beat the Fort Wayne Pistons 82-77.

1962 — Jim Beatty becomes the first American to break the 4-minute mile indoors with a 3:58.9 in Los Angeles.

1968 — Peggy Fleming wins the women’s Olympic figure skating gold medal in Grenoble, France.

1969 — LSU’s Pete Maravich scores 66 points in a 110-94 loss to Tulane.

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1971 — Former first baseman Bill White becomes the first black announcer in major baseball league history, signing to join the New York Yankees WPIX broadcast team.

1989 — K.C. Jones of the Boston Celtics and Lenny Wilkens of the Cleveland Cavaliers are elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame. Also elected is William “Pop” Gates, who played during the game’s barnstorming years in the 1930s and 1940s.

1991 — Charles Barkley of the Philadelphia 76ers, playing with a stress fracture in his left foot, becomes the NBA All-Star MVP with 17 points and 22 rebounds after leading the East to a 116-114 victory.

1992 — Bonnie Blair becomes the first woman to successfully defend an Olympic gold medal in 500-meter speed skating and the first American woman in any sport to win gold medals in consecutive Olympics.

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1998 — Picabo Street, Alpine skiing’s comeback kid, overcomes a mistake about midway through her run and charges to an Olympic gold by one-hundredth of a second in the women’s super-G — the games’ first Alpine medal after three days of snow-related postponements.

2007 — San Diego’s Nate Kaeding kicks a 21-yard field goal as time expires to cap another strong drive led by MVP Carson Palmer in the AFC’s 31-28 victory over the NFC in the Pro Bowl.

2007 — Jaromir Jagr has three assists in the New York Rangers’ 5-2 win over Washington and becomes the 12th player in NHL history to score 1,500 points.

2016 — Golden State storms into the All-Star break on an 11-game winning streak with a 112-104 victory over Phoenix. At 48-4, the Warriors have the best record through 52 games in NBA history, one win better than the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls and 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers.

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And finally

Picabo Street wins a gold medal in 1998. Watch it here.

Until next time...

That concludes today’s newsletter. If you have any feedback, ideas for improvement or things you’d like to see, email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.


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