Kobe Bryant helicopter pilot 'was warned he was flying too low'

27 January 2020, 14:54 | Updated: 27 January 2020, 14:56

Kobe Bryant, and the pilot named as Ara Zobayan, both died in the crash
Kobe Bryant, and the pilot named as Ara Zobayan, both died in the crash. Picture: PA/Facebook

By Asher McShane

The pilot of the helicopter carrying basketball star Kobe Bryant was warned he was ‘too low’ before it crashed, it emerged today.

Audio released between the pilot and air traffic control revealed efforts to guide the aircraft before it crashed in thick fog.

Nine people on board died including Kobe, 41, and his daughter Gianna, 13. The pilot, who was named locally as Ara Zobayan, also perished in the crash.

An investigation was launched into yesterday’s incident with tributes pouring in from around the world.

A vast crowd of mourners gathered at the Staples Center in Los Angeles with people lighting candles in tribute to the basketball megastar.

Former president Barack Obama tweeted: “Kobe was a legend on the court... To lose Gianna is even more heartbreaking to us as parents. Michelle and I send love and prayers to Vanessa [Bryant’s wife] and the entire Bryant family on an unthinkable day.”

Mourners gather outside the Staples Center in LA
Mourners gather outside the Staples Center in LA. Picture: PA

The Los Angeles police department grounded its helicopter fleet, it also emerged today.

APD spokesman Josh Rubenstein said: “The weather situation did not meet our minimum standards for flying.”

The police force later tweeted: "Our hearts are broken with the news from media reports of the loss of Kobe Bryant & his daughter Gianna.

"He will always be a figure that captured the imagination of generations of Angelenos. Our thoughts are with his family during this unimaginably difficult time as we all mourn."

He added that the helicopters need at least two miles of visibility and an 800-foot cloud ceiling before taking off.

A friend of the pilot posted online: “Ara was an incredible pilot, instructor pilot, charter pilot and truly a great man. He was not your typical egotistical helicopter pilot like most of us honestly are.

"Ara was a man that always remained cool, calm and collected. As more people that knew Ara open up about him, you’ll only hear words like professional, calculated and loving.

"He was always good for a laugh. As many of you mourn a celebrity, some of us mourn the loss of a great pilot and all around incredible guy. Simply heartbroken."

The pilot was named as Ara Zobayan
The pilot was named as Ara Zobayan. Picture: Facebook

In the air traffic audio, the controller is heard telling the pilot, “You are too low level for flight following at this time.” Radar contact with air traffic control was lost shortly afterwards.

Leading figures from the world of sport paid tribute.

Bryant, his daughter, and seven others died in the crash
Bryant, his daughter, and seven others died in the crash. Picture: Getty

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach wrote online: “Kobe was an outstanding and true Olympic champion," Bach said on the official Olympics Twitter account.

"He embraced the power of sport to change people's lives.

"After retiring from the game he loved so much, he continued to support the Olympic movement and was an inspiration for the Olympic Games LA 2028.

"We will all miss his energy and his humble nature. Our thoughts are with his family and friends and all the other victims."

Two-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka has thanked Bryant for "caring and checking up on me after my hard losses" after the basketball player's death.

Osaka, 22, tweeted a statement that read: "Dear, Big bro.

"Hey... I don't really know what to do so I'm writing you this letter. Thank you for being you. Thank you for inspiring people everywhere, you have no idea how many hearts you've touched.

"Thank you for being so humble and not acting as big as you are. Thank you for caring and checking up on me after my hard losses. Thank you for randomly texting me, "You ok?", cause you know how f***** up my head is sometimes.

"Thank you for teaching me so much in the short time I've been lucky enough to have known you. Thank you for existing.

"You will forever be my big bro/mentor/inspiration. Love you."

Celebrities also paid tribute to him.

Actor Jamie Foxx also shared a tribute to Bryant on Instagram by tweeting a short video of the two men having a conversation.

"My heart breaks looking back at this," Foxx wrote alongside the footage.

Snoop Dogg also posted a video on Instagram of him looking at old basketball photos with Bryant.

The rapper shared a message saying "I loved this man I'm so glad he knew".

Singer and actress Jennifer Lopez also wrote a message to the former Los Angeles Lakers player on social media.

Lopez's message, which was posted next to an image of Bryant with his family, read: "I am sending all of my love and praying for you, your children and the other families involved in today's tragic turn of events.

"The most unfair thing in life is to lose a child and husband on the same day.

"Kobe you meant so much to so many and we will miss you forever.

"Thank you for your work ethic, your inspiration and your heart."

Singer Mariah Carey tweeted saying she was "in shock right now. RIP Kobe."