The pilot, Ara Zobayan, discussed weather conditions in-flight and the day before the crash. It would not have been uncommon to cancel a flight due to weather, as the Los Angeles Times pointed out. Kobe Bryant, 41, and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, were headed to Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks. The additional passengers were Payton Chester, 13, Sarah Chester, 45, Alyssa Altobelli, 14, Keri Altobelli, 46, John Altobelli, 56, and Christina Mauser, 38.
Zobayan’s last transmission indicated he would climb to 4,000 feet, according to a National Transportation Safety Board investigative update. You can read the update in full here. The NTSB also released text of conversations leading up to the crash.
Here’s what you need to know:
In-Flight Text Messages & Texts the Day Before Kobe Bryant’s Crash Discussed Weather Updates
On the evening of January 25, 2020, the night before the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash, Patti Taylor of OC Helicopters sent out a group text message. She was the broker who arranged Bryant’s flights and ground transportation, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“Weather look ok tomorrow?” she asked.
“Just checked and not the best day tomorrow but it is not as bad as today,” Zobayan, the 50-year-old pilot, responded.
The group flew to the same destination that day without incident, despite the weather. Zobayan had flown Bryant on the same route at least 10 times before, the Times reported.
“Advised weather could be issue …” Taylor responded.
“Copy. Will advise on weather early morning,” Zobayan answered.
Tess Davidson, Zobayan’s girlfriend of seven years, told investigators the veteran pilot could not be pressured into flying. Taylor told the investigators flights with Bryant were often cancelled or delayed due to weather. She said Bryant did not like to be told “no,” but they often did so anyway. Island Express cancelled 150 flights the previous year due to weather, according to investigators, sometimes with high-profile clients.
At 7:30 a.m. January 26, 2020, Zobayan messaged the group, “Looking ok.” Fifty minutes later, when Taylor checked in, he answered, “Should be OK.” Ric Webb, OC Helicopters Owner, answered, “I agree,” the Times reported.
“Wheels up,” Taylor texted at 9:06 a.m. as the Sikorsky S-76B left John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana.
“Just started raining lightly here,” one of Bryant’s drivers messaged from the Camarillo Airport, the helicopter’s destination, at 9:33 a.m.
Zobayan used an app, ForeFlight, to indicate his route. It said he was planning to travel east and north around the clouds, the Times reported.
“Uh, we climbing to 4,000,” Zobayan told an air traffic controller at 9:44 a.m., indicating he planned to fly above the cloud cover.
“And then what are you gonna do when you get to altitude?” the air traffic controller asked.
There was no response. He asked the question several more times with no response. The helicopter crashed at 9:45 a.m.
“Land?” the broker asked the driver at the Camarillo Airport, three minutes after the scheduled arrival, according to Lakers Daily.
“Not yet,” he answered.
At 10:02, Taylor messaged, “Ara, you ok”
At about the same time, Zobayan’s girlfriend woke up and texted him, as was her routine. The text message did not go through.
A National Transportation Safety Board Investigative Update Says Fog & Low Clouds Obscured Hills When Kobe Bryant’s Helicopter Crashed
Photos in a National Transportation Safety Board investigative update show the low cloud cover obscuring the hillside on the morning of January 26, 2020, at the time Kobe Bryant, his daughter, Gianna Bryant, and seven others died in a fiery helicopter crash. You can read the report in full here.
Pilot Ara Zobayan told air traffic control he would climb to 4,000 feet, above the cloud cover. It was his last transmission. The clouds were at about 1,100 feet, the report said. Instead of reaching altitude, the pilot climbed to about 2,300 feet, turned left and began descending at 4,000 feet per minute.
A report, summarized by the Los Angeles Times, said Zobayan may have thought he was ascending when he was actually descending. The report said he “could have misperceived both pitch and roll angles.” It added, “When a pilot misperceives altitude and acceleration it is known as the ‘somatogravic illusion’ and can cause spatial disorientation.”
The wreckage was located in the foothills of the Santa Monica mountains, in a mountain bike park. The helicopter left an impact crater that was 24 by 15 feet in diameter and 2 feet deep, the NTSB report said.