That fateful Sunday was by no means a lazy one for Kobe. By 7:00 a.m. he’d already attended church before making the trip from his Newport Coast home to John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana. The morning sunrise was slowly fading beneath the gray of a coming storm, though the basketball legend had bigger things on his mind than the weather.
Just a few hours away, the Orange County basketball team that Kobe coached and Gianna played for were set to begin their first-ever tournament. The girls were eager to hit the court, though getting to the game wouldn’t be as simple as driving around the block.
The Mamba Sports Academy gym, which Kobe co-owned, was some 80 miles away in Thousand Oaks, meaning it’d take most of the team a good two-plus hours to get there. Naturally, crawling through bumper-to-bumper traffic wasn’t exactly Kobe’s idea of a proper warmup before a big game.
To the skies
That’s why Kobe offered to take Gianna, several of her teammates, and their parents to the tournament aboard his private “Mamba Chopper.” In his later years, the NBA legend had flown by helicopter to dozens of games. Why would this trip be any different?
Just the day before, the copter had made the very same journey — and without issue. But when the group arrived at the airport at around 9:00 a.m., they may have been surprised to find passengers lingering in the terminal.
Evidently, the poor weather conditions had caused a number of other pilots to ground their flights for the day. Even the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department had forced its helicopters to land. Kobe, fearing Gianna and the others would miss their noon tipoff, quickly sought out his pilot Ara Zobayan for answers.
But Ara explained that both he and the airport’s flight coordinator had given the go-ahead for the day’s flight. And so, without a moment to spare, Kobe, Gianna, and their guests — three of Gianna’s teammates and their parents — took off aboard the Mamba Copter at 9:06 a.m. It was the last time anyone would see them alive again.
The flight began without a hitch, though the limited visibility forced Ara to stay low below the clouds as he flew along I-5 instead of banking high over the Hollywood Hills as he’d done the day prior. Then, as the chopper approached Glendale, controllers from Hollywood Burbank Airport put it in a holding pattern for 11 minutes before allowing it to continue on its path.
Into the clouds
At around 9:40 a.m., Ara radioed to a nearby control tower for assistance navigating the upcoming hilly terrain. The controller responded, however, that he was flying too low to be detected by radar. Then, five minutes later, the pilot relayed that he was climbing to avoid the cloud cover. It was the last communication he made.
Falling from the sky
Moments later, outside a nearby church, Scott Daehlin heard a buzzing overheard — far too close for the craft to be heading anywhere but down. The sound grew louder, heading east, before a sudden, sickening thud replaced it. Then it was silent.
As emergency crews rushed to the scene, they were met with a brutal sight. And the wrecked helicopter still burned wildly as rescuers searched for survivors. Yet one look at the scattered debris and raging flames made it horribly clear: all those aboard were gone.
Can’t be real
Word of the crash spread like wildfire, with TMZ being the first to break the news to the world. Disbelieving fans scrolled their newsfeeds relentlessly; loved ones reached out to the victims in frantic texts, only to never receive a reply. At the Mamba Academy, parents and players alike joined hands and dropped to their knees to pray. There had to be some mistake.
But once the dust settled, the devastating truth was confirmed: Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, and seven others had perished in the crash. Tributes poured out from all corners of the globe. Even in the midst of the grief, though, there was one question on everyone’s mind: what had happened?
According to initial investigations conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the trouble had begun as Ara attempted to climb through the cloud cover shortly before losing contact. The helicopter had risen 1,000 feet in just 36 seconds. Then, when it had reached the 2,300-foot threshold, it had made what The New York Times would later call “a broad partial U-turn to the left [before starting] a steep descent.”
Recipe for disaster
Falling at a rate of 4,000 feet per minute, the helicopter was only 20 to 30 feet shy of clearing the hill ahead. However, the limited visibility had given Ara little chance to correct course before the fatal crash. So, what had caused the chopper to descend so suddenly and uncontrollably?
Ruling it out
Source: Her Moments