Ara Zobayan was piloting the doomed Sikorsky S-76 chopper when it came down in thick fog between the Santa Monica Mountains on Sunday morning, killing all on board.
The 50-year-old loved his partner Tessie ‘Tess’ Davidson “beyond measure” and she is “not good right now”, a close friend has told the Mail Online.
The pair had been an item for 11 years with friend Jesse Clark saying everyone who knew Ara – including Tess’s two boys who considered him like a father – are “still mourning”.
“Tess will never be over it. That was the impact he had in her life,” he continued.
“He was an amazing guy. Other than a piece of jewellery that says they’re married, they were everything that a married couple is.
“She has two boys. Ara was every bit an adoptive father to them. It’s hitting them and the whole family hard. Anybody that Ara touched in their life, I guarantee that they are suffering too.”
The couple had shared an apartment in Huntington Beach, Oregon, and Tess often joined Ara as a passenger on his flights.
Jesse said Bryant “deserves the praise that he got” as an “American icon” following his death but said his friend will be missed just as much by those who knew him.
“Nobody really knows Ara, but a lot of people in this world missed out,” he continued. “Ara’s no different than Kobe. He was a put a smile on your face kind of guy.”
Jesse said his partner had travelled from Oregon to Los Angeles to look after Jess who is struggling to cope with the tragedy – adding he hopes the investigation will bring some closure.
There has been much speculation as to the cause of the crash in the days since the tragedy, which saw debris from the aircraft spread across the distance of a football field.
Ara was a chief pilot and had more than 10 years experience and had logged more than 8,000 flight hours, according to the company that owns the chopper, Island Express Helicopters.
Jesse said with the National Transportation Safety Board investigation likely to take up to 18 months to finish, Jessie will be “putting pieces together for a while”.
In addition to Ara, Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, three other families linked to the Mamba Sports Academy perished on their way to a girls’ basketball tournament.
Husband and wife John and Keri Altobelli with their 13-year-old daughter Alyssa; Sarah Chester and her 13-year-old daughter Payton; and basketball coach and mum Christina Mauser.
It is believed that investigators are currently focusing on the weather conditions, trying to establish whether the foggy conditions were the cause behind the tragic incident, or whether they may have been a mechanical fault with the aircraft.
Reports have also emerged claiming the helicopter flying Bryant and Co plummeted nearly 500 feet in just 15 seconds before smashing into an LA hillside.
The chopper is said to have caught fire after going down, as emergency services battled in vain to save those on board.
Audio between the pilot and air traffic controllers reveals he was given permission to fly under special visual flight rules or SVFR, despite the treacherous fog.
But he was forced to circle for a quarter of an hour while the air space was cleared by controllers.
Thick fog engulfed the flight path and conditions continued to worsen in the minutes after takeoff at 9.06am, with Ara then circling over Burbank from 9.20 am.
Remaining in constant contact with air traffic control at Burbank Airport, the helicopter then asked the Van Nuys Tower if it could rotate southwest at 9.39 am which was approved.
Ara had been given special permission to navigate the difficult conditions by sight without reliance on instruments, and after the manoeuvre, he confirmed he had regained flight visuals.
The helicopter then began to accent to 1,500 feet before dropping back down at 9.42 am to allow the aircraft to show up on the correct frequency as per requests from air traffic controllers.
However, there was then no response from the pilot for two minutes and 40 seconds before the helicopter plummeted to the ground, the tower said: “You’re still too low for flight following at this time.”
Instead of continuing to descend, Ara climbed quickly to around 2,125 feet, potentially looking to rid himself of the poor weather, before dropping out of the sky and crashing while travelling at 175mph.
Flight data indicates the chopper dropped at 425 feet in its final 15 seconds before crashing into a hillside in Calabasas at 9.45 am.
Bryant regularly used his Sikorsky S-76 helicopter to travel to and from matches at the Staples Centre, the LA Lakers’ home stadium.