Helicopter Company in Kobe Bryant Crash Not Certified to Fly in Poor Visibility: Reports

January 31, 2020 Updated: January 31, 2020
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The charter company whose helicopter crashed and killed basketball star Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others on Sunday was not certified to fly in conditions requiring pilots to fly using only cockpit instruments, media reports said.

Island Express Helicopters, which owned the Sikorsky S-76B that crashed, was only certified to operate under visual flight rules, which mean pilots must be able to clearly see outside the aircraft in daylight, Kurt Deetz, a pilot and former safety manager at the company, told the New York Times.

The aircraft is equipped for instrument flying, however, the report said.

“There is only one way you can be in the clouds, on an I.F.R. flight plan or by accident,” Deetz told the newspaper, referring to instrument flight rules.

The helicopter’s pilot, Ara Zobayan, was licensed for instrument flying, most likely had little experience in doing so given the company’s operating limitations, Deetz told Forbes separately.

The twin-engine helicopter slammed into a hillside in Calabasas, California, amid visibility-limiting clouds and fog.

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Part of the wreckage of a helicopter crash near Calabasas, Calif., on Jan. 27, 2020. (James Anderson/National Transportation Safety Board via AP)

Air traffic controllers had given Zobayan “special visual flight rules,” or clearance to fly in the less-than-optimal weather around the Burbank airport.

The pilot had reported that visibility was sufficient for visual flight, the Times said, adding that the weather appeared to have worsened as the flight continued.

In a separate statement, Island Express Helicopters said it was suspending all services.

“The shock of the accident affected all staff, and management decided that service would be suspended until such time as it was deemed appropriate for staff and customers,” the charter company said.

The death of Bryant, 41, an 18-time NBA all-star and one of the most admired athletes around the globe, sent shockwaves through the sports and entertainment worlds.

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Mourners gather in Microsoft Square near the Staples Center to pay respects to Kobe Bryant after a helicopter crash killed the retired basketball star, in Los Angeles, Calif.on Jan. 28, 2020. (Kyle Grillot/Reuters)

By Shubham Kalia