“I never got a chance to meet him, but I do feel a strange connection in this moment,” said Colbert, 55. “One that I wouldn’t wish on anybody.”
“I lost my father and two of my brothers when I was a boy to a plane crash that was also in heavy fog,” he said, after mentioning Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and the seven other victims on the helicopter. “And one of the terrible things about that shock and the heartbreaking unreality, nightmare quality of someone huge in your life who just disappears [and] the center of your love disappearing in that moment is not knowing what happened.”
“I’m not angry. I’m not,” he said then. “I’m mystified, I’ll tell you that. But I’m not angry.”
“I learned to love it,” he continued. “So that’s why. Maybe, I don’t know. That might be why you don’t see me as someone angry and working out my demons onstage. It’s that I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.”
On The Late Show, Colbert said that unlike airplanes, helicopters don’t have flight recorders, colloquially known as “black boxes,” to electronically provide data about aviation accidents Following a trip to New Zealand, where he met helicopter pilot Louisa “Choppy” Patterson, Colbert learned that “when a helicopter goes down, we don’t necessarily know why it did.”
“I think it’s crazy that helicopters don’t have black box recorders, because as Choppy explained to me when a helicopter goes down, we don’t know how to improve the helicopter,” he said. “We don’t know how to improve the flying of the pilots so this won’t happen again in the future.”
“And while nothing will possibly improve this tragedy,” he continued. “While nothing will take away this heartache and this pain from this family that will be living with it for the rest of their lives and all these people’s families who will be living with a heartbreak and in the need of love and support for the rest of their lives, for a pain that will never go away, that perhaps someone could take action to make sure that there are some ways to record what is happening in these helicopters so that it doesn’t happen as often.”
The host then called for the National Transportation Safety Board to improve conditions for helicopter pilots by adding black boxes to aircrafts.
“To do nothing after helicopters go down like this, and we lose greats like this, or we lose any person whose family is now in agony, and in ignorance of what happened to their loved one, I think is unconscionable,” he said. “So I hope the NTSB will do something to improve the conditions for helicopter pilots and the information they can get if a tragedy like this happens because these people are now in misery. Why compound their misery with mystery about what happened to their loved ones?”
“It’s better to know than not to know because if we know, we could possibly stop this from happening to someone else in the future,” he continued. “And personally, I want to send my love and my prayers to Kobe’s family and to all these families. And know that there is something on the other side of this grief.”
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“Well, that morning, I was in Calabasas as fate would have it,” he said, referring to where Bryant’s helicopter crashed. “It reminds you of how much of this life is just a vapor. We’re here and even the mighty among us, those who seem like they’ll live forever. The immortal ones can just be gone. Just like that.”
“It was hard to celebrate at the Grammys, to be honest,” he continued. “Everybody was in a very mournful, reflective mood, even amongst a great celebration. It just felt as if we lost something very important and had been reminded collectively of something also very important that we all have to face.”
On Sunday, authorities confirmed that nine victims were killed in the crash, including Bryant and Gianna, nicknamed “Gigi.” Sarah Chester and her daughter, eighth-grader Payton, the head baseball coach at Orange Coast College John Altobelli, his wife Keri and daughter Alyssa, girls basketball coach Christina Mauser and pilot Ara Zobayan were also on the aircraft during the deadly helicopter crash.