‘Helicopter Went Down, Flames Seen’: Kobe Bryant’s Last Flight

 ‘Helicopter Went Down, Flames Seen’: Kobe Bryant’s Last Flight


Bryant’s pilot, Zobayan, would have had final authority on the decision to leave, possibly confident that, in a helicopter, he could land or turn back if the weather worsened. It is not known if he consulted Island Express’s management. Friends and colleagues who knew Zobayan said it was unlikely he could have been pressured into flying by a celebrity client.

Bryant and his guests climbed into the Mamba Chopper and sat on a pair of four-person benches, one facing forward, the other facing to the back. The helicopter, registered as N72EX, lifted off at 9:06.

Zobayan quickly leveled off at 700 to 800 feet, below the clouds. They cruised north at about 170 miles per hour toward downtown Los Angeles. The clouds kept Zobayan from angling west and cutting high over the Hollywood Hills, as he had done the day before. He stayed low, following I-5 past Dodger Stadium, to the wide gap east of Griffith Park, with its famous hilltop observatory.

At Glendale, air traffic control put him in a holding pattern while a NetJets charter from Tucson, Ariz., flying on instruments because of the poor visibility, approached the Hollywood Burbank Airport. The Mamba Chopper slowed to about 70 m.p.h. and circled five times in about 11 minutes, just below the clouds.

The nearby Van Nuys Airport also had an inbound plane, a private jet from Cabo San Lucas. Controllers routed the chopper around it in an arc to the north, out of the way, above the wide San Fernando Valley. At 9:39, the helicopter swooped back to the south at 1,400 feet to trace Highway 101 west toward Camarillo.

Soon, with the Santa Monica Mountains to the left, the terrain wrinkles, and the highway rises and falls and curves with the topography. On this day, the space between earth and clouds narrowed to almost nothing.

Zobayan requested flight following, in which controllers track an aircraft to provide advisories along the way. Because the company was not certified to fly with instruments, he wanted to stay below the clouds. But flying so low meant that radar could not track him.



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