The pilot of the helicopter which crashed killing basketball superstar Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and seven other people had probably become disorientated amid fog, US safety investigators said on Tuesday.
The helicopter smashed into a hillside near Calabasas, California in January 2020.
Pilot Ara Zobayan was among the dead.
He had told air traffic controllers the helicopter was climbing out of heavy cloud when it was actually descending.
“This manoeuvre is consistent with the pilot experiencing spatial disorientation in limited visibility conditions,” said Robert Sumwalt, chairman of the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
The NTSB has been investigating the circumstances around the crash, and is meeting today to vote on the probable cause.
Zobayan was an experienced pilot who had often flown for Bryant.
Disorientation can set in when pilots can’t see the sky or landscape, making it harder to judge an aircraft’s altitude and acceleration.
Mr Sumwalt said the board would also discuss “whether the pilot faced pressure to complete the flight”.
“What were the expectations of the pilot under the company policy?,” he asked. “Did he put pressure on himself, and what actions could he have taken to avoid flying into the clouds?”
The NTSB previously said there was no evidence of mechanical failure in the Sikorsky S-76B helicopter.
The helicopter wasn’t required to have “black box” recorders, which capture flight data and voices in the cockpit, and wasn’t carrying any.
At the time of the crash, retired NBA legend Bryant was travelling to a youth basketball tournament with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, two of her teammates, and several other friends.