Kobe Bryant's Former Helicopter Pilot Speaks Out Following Crash (Exclusive)
By Jennifer Drysdale
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Kobe Bryant's former helicopter pilot remembers him as "gracious" and "professional."
Kurt Deetz flew the NBA legend in his helicopter for two years, from 2015 to 2017; the pilot flying Bryant and seven others when their helicopter crashed on Sunday was Deetz's former boss, Ara Zobayan. There were no survivors.
In an interview with ET's Lauren Zima on Monday, Deetz reacted to Bryant's shocking death and offered insight into the devastating crash. According to Deetz, while the helicopter had room for a co-pilot -- "It was configured for eight in the back, and then two up front [for the] pilot and co-pilot," he said -- having that additional crew member on board would not have prevented the tragedy.
"They're a single program. There's no need for two pilots. It wouldn't have made a difference," Deetz said, clarifying that in the case of Bryant's helicopter, the presence of a co-pilot was more in case something happened to the pilot, rendering him or her unable to fly.
The official cause of the crash is currently under investigation. During the L.A. County Sheriff's Office press conference on Sunday, it was revealed that a 911 call was placed reporting a helicopter crash and brushfire at 9:47 a.m. It took emergency responders approximately eight minutes to arrive on the scene, and about another hour to extinguish the fire at the crash site.
The weather conditions were apparently pretty bad, with a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Police Department telling ET that the department grounded all of their helicopters on Sunday morning because the foggy weather conditions did not meet the LAPD's minimum standards for flying.
Deetz told ET that flying Bryant and his fellow passengers would have been up to Zobayan's discretion. "Every pilot has their level of comfort and as long as you're not IMC [instrument meteorological conditions, you can fly]," he shared. "Every pilot has different comfort levels."
"As a PIC [pilot in command], you determine if you can do the mission or not," Deetz explained.
Until the investigation is completed, Deetz isn't sure what could have gone wrong. "I mean, for this type of aircraft, they have two of everything. Two engines, two hydraulics," he offered.
Deetz found out about the crash at about 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, after a friend had texted him. "There's only two companies that fly that type of aircraft in L.A.," he revealed, noting that the helicopter community is small, and some worried that he might have been on board.
"It's surreal," he shared. "You knew the pilot, and all of the sudden, they're gone."
As for Bryant, Deetz remembers him fondly. He flew the basketball star "every home game, every practice, and then after retirement, [for] events, meetings, family outings."
"[He gave] a lot of head nods and thumbs up and waves. I respected him. He respected me. I was there to do a job and just fly," Deetz said.
"That was enough. That's acknowledgment," he added.
Bryant's 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, was also among the victims of Sunday's crash. Deetz remembered flying the family during one Father's Day trip.
"Even on that Father's Day interaction with his daughters, there's always that shoving and joking and a lot of giggling. A lot of giggling in the back," Deetz said. "It is kind of heartwarming in a way."
While a reported stated that Bryant and his wife, Vanessa, had a pact not to fly in a helicopter together, Deetz told ET that he flew the couple together "several times" to dinners or games.
Bryant is survived by Vanessa and their three other children -- Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and Capri, 7 months. See more in the video below.