How Many People Died in the Kobe Crash?

January 16, 2024

The helicopter that crashed last year killing Kobe Bryant and eight others in Southern California, including his 13-year-old daughter Gigi, was likely the victim of poor decision-making by pilot Ara Zobayan. He was flying under visual flight rules, meaning he had to be able to see where he was going, but he decided to fly into thick fog, where he became spatially disoriented, according to National Transportation Safety Board investigators.

The NTSB is publishing its findings in an 86-page report that includes everything investigators found during a year-long investigation of the crash that killed all nine people aboard. They found that the helicopter's crash into a hillside in Calabasas was likely caused by pilot error and there was no sign of mechanical failure.

On Jan. 26, 2020, the helicopter carrying Kobe and Gigi and seven other passengers from Orange County to a youth basketball tournament in Ventura County encountered dense fog near Calabasas. The Sikorsky S-76 helicopter climbed sharply before banking abruptly and plunging into hills, killing everyone aboard.

Those killed included Gigi, Kobe's daughter; Payton Chester, 13, of Thousand Oaks; Sarah Chester, 44; Alyssa Altobelli, 14, of Malibu; and John Altobelli, a college baseball coach. The two pilots aboard, who had decades of experience between them, also died. Kobe's widow, Vanessa Bryant, sued the operator of the helicopter, Island Express Helicopters Inc., for negligence. Her suit claimed one controller denied a request from Zobayan to receive "flight following," or radar assistance, as he entered the fog.

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