Pilot in Kobe Bryant Helicopter Crash Said Weather 'Should Be OK' Despite Concerns Ahead of Flight

Ara Zobayan died alongside Kobe and Gianna Bryant and six others in the January crash

Ara Zobayan
Ara Zobayan.

Ara Zobayan, the pilot in January's fatal helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and six others, told others while preparing for the flight that weather conditions that morning appeared to be "ok."

Zobayan said that the weather "should be ok" less than an hour before the group departed, according to text messages made public by the National Transportation Safety Board this week between Zobayan, Island Express Helicopters, Inc.'s vice president Whitney Bagge, and two representatives from OC Helicopters, which brokered the flight.

The messages show that on Saturday, January 25, an OC Helicopter representative asked Zobayan how the weather looked for the following morning.

"Just checked not the best day tomorrow but it is not as bad as today," the pilot answered. In a later message, he said that he would "advise on weather early morning."

At 7:30 a.m. Sunday, January 26, Zobayan texted the group, "morning weather looking ok."

At 8:20 a.m., one of the brokers asked, "Ara how is weather looking for 9 departure."

"Should be ok," he answered. The other OC Helicopter broker added, "I agree."

Gianna Bryant and her father, former NBA player Kobe Bryant, attend the WNBA All-Star Game 2019 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on July 27, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada
Gianna and Kobe Bryant in 2019. Ethan Miller/Getty

The messages went on to show the rest of the group attempting to reach Zobayan when the flight tracker stopped working and going on to realize the helicopter had crashed.

The text thread was part of 1,700 pages of documents released by the NTSB consisting of "factual information" gathered from their investigation. A final report is still forthcoming, but may not be ready until next year.

The NTSB's report also claims that Zobayan may have "misperceived" the angles with which the helicopter was descending, as Zobayan believed the helicopter to be ascending before the crash.

"Calculated apparent angles at this time show that the pilot could have misperceived both pitch and roll angles," one report said. "During the final descent the pilot, responding to (air traffic control), stated that they were climbing to four thousand."

The NTSB previously said that the Sikorsky S-76B helicopter did not have engine failure before it crashed into a hillside in Calabasas, California. The NTSB's previous report also included photos showing foggy conditions in the area the morning of the crash.

Bagge explained in a statement included in the documents that "the flight for Sunday 1/26 was no different than any previous flights we've done before," and that a group text was created ahead of every flight with Kobe in order to "always keep everyone within communication for KB’s flights."

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"The texts would include KB’s drivers, Patti and Ric from OC Helicopters (Broker), myself (IEX VP), and the Pilot (Ara). We would flight follow through text messages on when the aircraft lifted and when the drivers could expect Kobe to land as well as when the drivers would arrive at the designated locations," Bagge said. "KB’s people were always informed as were Ric and Patti."

A rep for Island Express did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment Wednesday.

After the crash, Island Express temporarily suspended operations. Zobayan had worked for the company for a decade, logging 8,200 hours of flight experience and logged about 1,250 hours in the S76 helicopter, PEOPLE previously reported.

Kobe's wife, Vanessa Bryant, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Island Express Helicopters and is seeking extensive damages from the company. A a case summary statement submitted to Los Angeles Superior Court by Vanessa earlier this month estimated that the Bryant family has lost "hundreds of millions" in future earnings due to Kobe's untimely death.

Kobe Bryant, Vanessa Bryant. Andrew D. Bernstein/NHLI via Getty Images

"As a result of Kobe Bryant's and GB's deaths, Vanessa Bryant seeks economic damages, non-economic damages, prejudgment interest, punitive damages, and other relief as the Court deems just and proper," the documents said. "Although the total specific amount of personal injury damages that Plaintiff seeks is TBD, Kobe Bryant's future lost earnings equal hundreds of millions of dollars."

Vanessa is also seeking a jury trial for the lawsuit, but no date has been set yet.

In her initial filing, Vanessa claimed Zobayan “failed to properly monitor and assess the weather prior to takeoff,” “failed to abort the flight when he knew of the cloudy conditions,” and “failed to properly and safely operate the helicopter resulting in a crash," PEOPLE previously reported.

In addition to Zobayan, Kobe and Gianna, the crash also killed passengers John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli, Sarah Chester, Payton Chester, and Christina Mauser. The group had been traveling to a basketball tournament at Kobe's Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks.

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