Remembering Kobe Bryant on 3rd Anniversary of Crash That Also Killed His Daughter, Gianna, and 7 Others

Kobe and Gianna Bryant died with seven others in a helicopter crash during the early morning hours of Jan. 26, 2020

Tributes paid to Kobe Bryant
Photo: Michael Tullberg/Getty Images

Thursday marks three years since the tragic accident that claimed the lives of Kobe Bryant, his daughter, Gianna, and seven others.

During a foggy California morning on Jan. 26, 2020, Kobe, 13-year-old Gianna, and six of their friends boarded a Sikorsky S-76B helicopter flown by pilot Ara Zobayan. The group was flying from John Wayne Airport in Orange County to a basketball tournament at Kobe's Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks. But they never arrived.

Zobayan, the Bryants, and their friends — John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli, Sarah Chester, Payton Chester, and Christina Mauser — all perished when the helicopter crashed on a hillside in Calabasas, just 14 miles away from their Thousand Oaks destination.

At the time, Kobe was four years into retirement after winning five championships with the Los Angeles Lakers over a 20-year NBA career.

A year-long National Transportation Safety Board investigation later found that pilot error was the most consequential reason for the accident that morning.

In their 86-page report, NTSB investigators found that Zobayan flew through clouds — an apparent violation of federal standards — which likely led to him being spatially disorientated during their flight.

Kobe Bryant, Vanessa Bryant
Kobe and Vanessa Bryant. Vanessa Bryant/Instagram

The NTSB said that the pilot's "self-induced pressure and plan continuation bias" were factors in the crash.

Kobe's widow, Vanessa Bryant, also filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Island Express Helicopters, which was settled for an undisclosed amount in June 2021.

Vanessa — who also shares three other daughters with Kobe: Natalia, 18, Bianka, 6, and Capri, 3 — spoke to PEOPLE in March 2021 and opened up about the grief she experienced since the accident.

"This pain is unimaginable [but] you just have to get up and push forward," she said in PEOPLE's Women Changing the World issue. "Lying in bed crying isn't going to change the fact that my family will never be the same again. But getting out of bed and pushing forward is going to make the day better for my girls and for me. So that's what I do."

RELATED VIDEO: Vanessa Bryant Says She 'Broke Down' After Learning of Crash Site Photos of Kobe, Gianna: 'I Can't Escape'

In August 2022, Vanessa was subsequently awarded $16 million in a lawsuit against L.A. County over graphic photos of Kobe and Gianna that were allegedly taken at the crash scene by emergency responders.

Vanessa then donated the funds to the Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation, a nonprofit that continues Kobe and Gianna's legacies by presenting opportunities to underprivileged young athletes.

Vanessa told PEOPLE that "Kobe and Gigi motivate" her to "keep going," and her other three daughters help her "smile through the pain."

She added: "They give me strength."

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