LOS ANGELES (AP) — The pilot of the helicopter that crashed in thick fog northwest of Los Angeles in January, killing Kobe Bryant and seven other passengers, may have become disoriented in thick fog, according to a National Transportation Safety Board report released Wednesday. Ara Zobayan reported he was climbing when he actually was descending toward a hillside, according to the document.
There had been concerns about the weather the day before the flight, but the pilot reported that the weather seemed acceptable to fly less than 90 minutes before the accident, according to text messages cited in the report.
Before and during flights with Bryant, group texts would be sent that included the pilot; Whitney Bagge, vice president of Island Express Helicopters, which owned the helicopter; Ric Webb and Patti Taylor, co-owners of OC Helicopters, which coordinated the flight, and Bryant’s drivers, including one identified as Gary, so they would know when to expect him. Here are excerpts of texts and summaries provided by Bagge to the NTSB:
5:24 p.m. – Patti: Ok And weather looks ok tomorrow?
9:33 a.m. — Gary: Just started raining lightly here
9:48 a.m. — Patti: Land?
9:49 a.m. — Gary: Not yet
9:49 a.m. — Patti called Bagge and asked him to find the pilot’s location using a real-time flight tracker but it had stopped tracking the helicopter at 9:45 a.m. Bagge asked another employee, Angel, to try to reach the pilot by radio. The employee said he couldn’t reach the pilot. “I kept refreshing the tracker praying that it was just broken,” Bagge said. A few minutes later, after Angel was unable to contact the airport, Bagge told Angel to pull out the Emergency Response Manual and they began going down the list of procedures.
10:02 a.m. — Ric: Ara, you okay?
10:22 a.m. — Another helicopter takes off for the last tracked location of the helicopter carrying Bryant.
10:27 a.m. — Bagge tells Angel to have the helicopter turn around because “there is a confirmed airplane crash in the same area.” All Island Express flights for the day are canceled.