Kobe Bryant left this work almost six months ago and we’re yet to have a final answer on what happened last January 26 and what led to the fatal helicopter crash that killed Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven other people.
The Los Angeles Times revealed a series of text messages from the day of the crash, where the broker of the flight, the pilot’s girlfriend and more people in charge of taking Kobe to his destination discussed the weather and tracked down the flight.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Patti Taylor of OC Helicopters sent out a group text message on January 25th. She was the person who arranged Bryant’s flights and ground transportation for the next day.
“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.
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, made sure to tell investigators that he could never be pressured into flying. Taylor told the investigators flights with Bryant were often canceled or delayed due to weather. She said Bryant did not like to be told “no,” but they often did so anyway.
Kurt Deetz, a former Island Express pilot who had flown Bryant, told investigators Bryant left weather issues to the pilot because “he assumed you’re doing your job.”
At 7:30 a.m. January 26, 2020, Zobayan messaged the group, “Looking ok.” Less than an hour later, Taylor checked in and 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.
“Uh, we climbing to 4,000,” Zobayan told an air traffic controller at 9:44 a.m. He was indicating that he was flying above cloud cover on a day that had heavy fog.
“And then what are you gonna do when you get to altitude?” the air traffic controller asked. No response, so the question was asked 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.
“Not yet,” he answered.
At 10:02, Taylor messaged, “Ara, you ok.”
Zobayan’s girlfriend woke up around that time and texted him, which was their usual routine. The text message did not go through.
A witness emailed the NTSB that “there was zero visibility past the point where I saw it disappear into the low cloud at the trailhead” and she “found it peculiar they flew directly into heavy clouds so close to hills …”
Another witness emailed the agency: “We heard the helicopter flying normally, but couldn’t really see it because it was extremely foggy and low clouds. I was thinking to myself of why a helicopter would be flying so low in very bad weather conditions. Then, all of a sudden, we heard a large BOOM.”
The Los Angeles Times reported the pilot, Zobayan, probably thought he was ascending when he was actually descending, they 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.”
We still have to wait and see the final report of what really happened that day. Meanwhile, the picture gets clear; perhaps not one but several factors led to this catastrophe.