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NTSB: Pilot unconcerned about weather before crash that killed Kobe Bryant

By
Don Jacobson
A screen outside Staples Center in Los Angeles on January 28 pays tribute to former Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others who were killed in a helicopter crash two days earlier. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI
A screen outside Staples Center in Los Angeles on January 28 pays tribute to former Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others who were killed in a helicopter crash two days earlier. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

June 18 (UPI) -- The pilot of the helicopter that crashed in January, killing NBA star Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others, had apparently dismissed concerns about bad weather shortly before the flight, federal investigators say.

A series of text messages between pilot Ara Zobayan and flight company officials before the Jan. 26 crash in Calabasas, Calif., near Los Angeles, were released by the National Transportation Safety Board late Wednesday, along with thousands of other pages of evidence gathered so far in the investigation of the crash.

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The texts showed conversations that began two days before the crash between Zobayan, Island Express Helicopters Inc. Vice President Whitney Bagge and two flight brokers from OC Helicopters.

The messages revealed that there were concerns about potential fog in the area the weekend of the crash. Dense fog was reported around the time the Sikorsky S-76B departed John Wayne Airport in Orange County the morning of the crash. The helicopter collided with a hillside around an hour later, killing Bryant, 13-year-old Gianna Bryant, Zobayan and six others.

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"Just checked not the best day tomorrow but it is not as bad as today," Zobayan sent in a message the day before the crash.

At 7:30 a.m. on the 26th, Zobayan sent a message to the group.

"Morning weather looking OK," it read.

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Fifty minutes later, one of the brokers asked the pilot, "How is weather looking for 9 [am] departure"?

"Should be OK," the pilot answered.

The NTSB documents also suggested Zobayan may have become disoriented in the fog, believing he was ascending to fly above the dense fog when in fact records show he was descending in the moments before the crash.

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The federal safety agency has not yet issued a final report on the crash.

Mourning NBA icon Kobe Bryant one year later

A mural honors Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna in Los Angeles a year after the Calabasas, Calif., helicopter crash that killed them and seven others. Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

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