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The sports world has seen its fair share of dark days, but on January 26, 2020, it was almost as if the entire planet stopped spinning. Alongside his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others, Kobe Bryant’s life was tragically cut short. But as the world continues to mourn the loss of the late, great NBA star, details have emerged about the fatal accident. They reveal more about Kobe’s final moments — and what likely caused the helicopter crash that took his life.

Busy Sunday

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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.

Big game

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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.

Gridlock

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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

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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?

Something’s off

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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.

Unfavorable conditions

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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.

Takeoff

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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.

Alternate Route

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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

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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

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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.

No survivors

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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

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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.

Heartbreaking truth

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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?

Investigations begin

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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

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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

While some kind of mechanical malfunction seemed a likely culprit, the Mamba Copter had a strong safety record and had carried Kobe dozens of times before — including after his final Lakers game in 2016. With this theory ruled out, investigators turned to the next potential cause: the pilot.

Human error?
In retrospect, it’s clear that Ara shouldn’t have flown that day. Given his years of experience, though, he still should’ve been able to navigate the inclement weather. That’s why instead of blaming the crash outright on human error, the NTSB proposed that it had been caused by a phenomenon called “somatogravic illusion.”

Pilot confusion

“[When] you’re in clouds, sometimes physiologically, your brain, based on your inner ear… you kind of get confused,” Anthony Brickhouse, a former NTSB investigator, told the New York Post. Because of this phenomenon, Ara could’ve believed that his aircraft was climbing when it really wasn’t, leading him to become disoriented.

Conclusions made

It’s this theory that the NTSB ultimately went with when concluding the cause of the crash. It also laid blame on helicopter operator Island Express Holdings Inc. But hearing this may not have provided closure to the friends and loved ones of the victims — including the woman who had lost both her husband and her daughter in an instant.

Learning the news

The wider world will probably never know how exactly Vanessa learned of the crash. But on January 30, 2020, she released a saddening statement on Instagram. It began, “My girls and I want to thank the millions of people who’ve shown support and love during this horrific time. Thank you for all the prayers. We definitely need them.”

Painful tribute
Vanessa went on, “We are completely devastated by the sudden loss of my adoring husband, Kobe – the amazing father of our children; and my beautiful, sweet Gianna – a loving, thoughtful, and wonderful daughter, and amazing sister to Natalia, Bianka, and Capri. We are also devastated for the families who lost their loved ones on Sunday, and we share in their grief intimately.”

There aren’t words

Saddeningly, the superstar’s wife added, “There aren’t enough words to describe our pain right now. I take comfort in knowing that Kobe and Gigi both knew that they were so deeply loved. We were so incredibly blessed to have them in our lives. I wish they were here with us forever. They were our beautiful blessings taken from us too soon.”

Time to grieve
And at the end of her post Vanessa wrote, “Thank you for sharing your joy, your grief and your support with us. We ask that you grant us the respect and privacy we will need to navigate this new reality.” To add to that, she announced the creation of a fund that would “help support the other families affected by this tragedy.”

Carrying on their legacies

Since that tragic day, Vanessa Bryant has remained steadfast in holding those responsible for Kobe and Gianna’s deaths at fault while also seeking to highlight both of their incredible lives. Most mothers would do the same if it meant keeping the memory of a lost child alive, though when it came to Kobe, who lived most of his life in the limelight, Vanessa wanted people to know something else.

Never planned it
Most fans could already tell you that Kobe played 1,346 games throughout his professional career. But no hardcore fan, coach, or teammate saw the best and worst of him. Only Vanessa Bryant could make that claim. Her relationship with Kobe had all the drama of the fourth quarter of a playoff game. However, she never dreamed of becoming a basketball wife; her future materialized through a wild coincidence.

Meeting on set

The pair had first met on the set of a music video when Vanessa was 17 and Kobe 20. What’s more, young Vanessa, who had lived a sheltered and strict life, fell head over heels. In 2005 Vanessa’s old classmate Monica Squadrilli told the Los Angeles Times, “She’d bring pictures of Kobe to school, and we’d all be like ‘Omigod!’ Even then, a lot of people didn’t believe her. But then he gave her that massive engagement ring, and that shut everyone up.”

Short-lived rap career
And Kobe never forgot his first meeting with his future wife. You see, in the 2015 documentary Kobe Bryant’s Muse he said, “For those that don’t know, yes, I had a budding music career as a rapper. It didn’t last long, but I did make a video. On the video set is where I first met Vanessa. It was a two-day video shoot, and I was always looking for her, like I wanted to know where she was.”
Vanessa on the mind

The basketball star went on, “I would finish a take and go to my trailer but I would wonder where she was the entire time. Then I would come out of the trailer and just wanted to talk to her some more, in between takes and stuff like that. She was just beautiful. We literally did everything together.” And the two bonded over something slightly unusual.

Big Disney fans
Indeed, that something was a shared love for Disney. Kobe remembered on Kobe Bryant’s Muse, “I loved the Disney movies and things like that, but I never really had a chance to go to the (Disney) park much. She was a big Disney fan, too, and we used to hang out at Disneyland, we used to go to Magic Mountain, she became my best friend.”

Tying the knot

So in 2001, less than two years since they’d first met, Vanessa and Kobe got married at the St. Edward the Confessor Catholic Church in California. Yet it was a very small ceremony and Kobe’s family were not present. You see, the basketball player’s romance with Vanessa had created a large rift in the Bryant family.

Unapproved marriage
Yes, and some might be surprised by this. For in 2003 Kobe told the Orlando Sentinel that his father, Joe, refused to accept him marrying somebody who wasn’t African-American. (Vanessa is Latina.) Not only did he not attend his son’s wedding, he hadn’t gone to see his first grandchild, Natalia, either.

Painful rift

Kobe told the Orlando Sentinel, “Sure, I miss my father. Who wouldn’t miss his father? It’s not about basketball. It’s about having somebody to go to a ballgame with. It’s about having somebody to hang out with. That’s what I miss.” But Joe Bryant gave only vague reasons for the family rift.

Taking a step back
During a promotional session for a new sport called SlamBall that year, Joe told reporters, “Twenty years from now, when his own child grows up, he’ll understand what I’m doing… When Kobe made a decision to be with someone he cared about, Pam [his wife] and I decided it was time to back off, that’s all it was.”

No prenup

Furthermore, Vanessa and Kobe didn’t have a prenuptial agreement, something which caused concern among the young woman’s own family. For instance, her stepfather Stephen Laine told the Los Angeles Times in 2005, “We’d been going back and forth for months over a prenuptial agreement. She just came home one day and said something to the effect that Kobe didn’t want a prenup – that he loved her too much.”

Welcoming Gianna
Then Gianna, the couple’s second child, was born in 2006. Her full name was given as Gianna Maria-Onore Bryant, and Kobe announced in a statement, “The arrival of our daughter early this morning is an incredible blessing for me and my family. We are all full of beautiful emotions after what has been such an incredible day.”

Filing for divorce

So things seemed to be going well for basketball’s most famous couple. But then Vanessa suddenly filed for divorce in 2011, ten years after the couple had first married. At the time Natalia was eight years old, and Gianna was just five. And Vanessa’s reason for filing was given as “irreconcilable differences”, according to ABC News.

Infidelity
Meanwhile, TMZ alleged that the divorce had come about because of cheating incidents on Kobe’s part. You see, they spoke to “sources connected with the couple” and were apparently told, “[Vanessa’s] been dealing with these incidents for a long time and has been a faithful wife, but she’s finally had enough.”

Massive settlement

Of course, much was made over the fact that the couple didn’t have a prenup. If the divorce really did go ahead, the media claimed, Vanessa would be entitled to half of all the money Kobe had made with the Lakers. So with that, it appeared the fairytale romance was well and truly over.

Peaceful resolution
And furthermore, Kobe and Vanessa’s representative released a statement to the media at the time saying, “The Bryants have resolved all issues incident to their divorce privately with the assistance of counsel and a judgment dissolving their marital status will be entered in 2012.” But in the end, thankfully, that never came to pass.

Back on

Yes, because in 2013 it emerged that Kobe and Vanessa would not be getting divorced after all. Apparently, they had been seen together regularly holding hands and having dates, and the whole separation had been called off. For fans of the couple, that was needless to say extremely good news.

Public announcement
Touchingly, Vanessa posted a statement to her Instagram account that January on behalf of both herself and Kobe. And it confirmed the reports, reading, “We are pleased to announce that we have reconciled. Our divorce action will be dismissed. We are looking forward to our future together. Kobe & Vanessa.”

Full-time dad

What’s more, two big milestones happened for the couple in 2016: first their third daughter, Bianka, was born. Then Kobe retired from professional basketball and settled into life as a devoted father. In fact, he did his first post-retirement interview with Ellen Degeneres, and told her his daughters thought his skills were “pretty awesome.”

A new focus
And in April 2017, while promoting the short film Dear Basketball, Kobe chatted to Extra about his post-retirement life. Actually, he told presenter AJ Calloway that now he was focused on “taking the kids to school, going to the office and writing, and trying to create stories that will hopefully impact people tomorrow.”

Loving his girls

Furthermore, when asked about his family, Kobe declared, “They’re great – Vanessa’s good, Natalia, Gianna, and Bianka are good. Natalia’s 14, Gianna will be 11 in seven days, and Bianka’s four months… it’s crazy! Three girls!” And when he was questioned as to whether he’d ever want a boy, he told Extra , “I hear boys are just walking tornadoes. We’ll see. I think Vanessa wants a boy more than I do.”

Another girl
Indeed, that appeared to be the case. Because when Kobe appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show in April 2019, during which Vanessa was pregnant again, he confirmed the new baby would be a girl. He said, “I’m super excited. I love my princesses. Vanessa was kind of putting the pressure on me to have a boy. She said, ‘You can do it, you can do it!’ And then, ‘Nah, you can’t do it.’”

Stopping at four

Also, Kobe told Ellen that he wouldn’t mind having a fifth daughter or son eventually. He said, “I would go for a solid starting five. You just have your own internal basketball team. I would say yeah, but Vanessa right now would look at me as if I was crazy. She’s like, ‘No, we’re done. That’s it.’”

Koko arrives
So the new baby girl was born on June 20, 2019. And both of the parents announced the happy occasion on Instagram, giving her full name as Capri “Koko” Kobe Bryant. Vanessa wrote, “So thankful for our newest baby blessing.” While Kobe added, “We are beyond excited that our baby girl “Koko” has arrived!”

Strong individuals

Now, Kobe was always thrilled to be a father of young women. And in September 2019 he told Jimmy Kimmel, “I love having girls… I always say if you look at the eldest daughter, she’s always like the calm, responsible, thoughtful one, and then the second sister is like a tornado… That’s certainly like our house, and then we have two other ones.”

A husband and daughter
Therefore, despite the initial problems and separation, Kobe and Vanessa seemed to bounce back, making their marriage thrive once more. And when news of the terrible tragedy broke, many expressed concern for Vanessa alongside their tributes to Kobe. For she had lost a husband and daughter in one day, something few of us will ever experience.

Celebrity support

Actually, singer Jessica Simpson, who lived close to where the helicopter went down, offered her condolences to Vanessa. She wrote on an Instagram post, “Vanessa, you are the woman and wife that championed your husband to greatness. My prayers are constant for everyone affected by this impactful loss.”

Presidential tribute

Vanessa’s challenge

Poignantly, critic Rebecca Shuri seemed to sum up what a lot of people thought when she tweeted, “I can’t stop thinking about Vanessa Bryant, who was with Kobe longer than she was without him in her life, who has an infant child and two other young daughters, and who will have to bear this memory anew when each remaining daughter tries to reconcile this tragedy.” However, Vanessa did further share her thoughts on the tragedy soon after.

You see, in February the devoted mom revealed on Instagram how she was doing. And she wrote, “I’ve been reluctant to put my feelings into words. My brain refuses to accept that both Kobe and Gigi are gone. I can’t process both at the same time. It’s like I’m trying to process Kobe being gone but my body refuses to accept my Gigi will never come back to me.”
Feeling thankful

She went on, “Why should I be able to wake up another day when my baby girl isn’t being able to have that opportunity?! I’m so mad. She had so much life to live. Then I realize I need to be strong and be here for my three daughters. Mad I’m not with Kobe and Gigi but thankful I’m here with Natalia, Bianka and Capri.”

Looking for peace

Seeing Vanessa deal with the loss of both her husband and daughter has touched a lot of hearts. Indeed, she has barely known a life without Kobe since the pair met for the first time at such a young age. And at the moment, it seems a lot of people are just hoping that she will find peace and happiness again.

Source: Her Moments

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