Pilot in Crash That Killed Kobe Bryant Violated Weather-Related Flight Rules in 2015, FAA Records Indicate

By Wire Service
Wire Service
Wire Service
February 22, 2020Updated: February 22, 2020

Ara Zobayan, the pilot of the helicopter that crashed in California, killing NBA legend Kobe Bryant, violated weather-related flight rules in 2015, according to Federal Aviation Administration enforcement records obtained by CNN.

Bryant, Zobayan and seven other people died when the helicopter crashed as it headed to a youth basketball game on a foggy morning on Jan. 26.

Epoch Times Photo
Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant reacts during Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals in Boston, Massachusetts, on June 17, 2008. (Gabriel Bouys/AFP via Getty Images)

The Los Angeles Times was first to report the alleged violation.

While operating an Island Express helicopter in May 2015, Zobayan was denied clearance through Los Angeles International Airport due to reduced visibility from weather conditions.

An air traffic controller informed him the airfield was reporting less than basic visual flight rules (VFR) minimums, but Zobayan violated the rules and flew into the airspace, according to the enforcement records.

Records state that Zobayan admitted his error.

He “took responsibility for his action, and was willing to take any other necessary steps toward compliance.”

Kobe Bryant helicopter crash site
Personnel collect debris while working with investigators at the helicopter crash site of NBA star Kobe Bryant in Calabasas, California on Jan. 28, 2020. (Patrick T. Fallon/Reuters)

“Mr. Zobayan was counseled on operating in Class B airspace, special VFR weather minimums, proper planning, reviewing weather and anticipating required action. He was cooperative and receptive to the counseling,” the report adds.

The underlying root cause of the violation was “human factor > aircrew > proper planning,” according to the report. The records state that had Zobayan properly planned and reviewed current weather conditions at LAX, he would have been able to anticipate the required action to get clearance to fly. In doing so, he would have had “proper coordination, a proper request, and elimination of confusing terminology.”

“Proper coordination should have included an earlier initiation of communication to allow time for receiving a clearance,” the report adds.

It also says: “There are no indications that this is a repeated incident and there are no signs that this incident is a trend with Mr. Zobayan.”

Before Bryant’s helicopter crashed into a mountainside near Calabasas on Jan. 26, it had operated under “special visual flight rules (SVFR),” according to an air traffic control conversation with the pilot, captured by website LiveATC.net. The SVFR was for an earlier part of the flight through Burbank Airport airspace.

An SVFR clearance allows a pilot to fly in weather conditions worse than those allowed for regular visual flight rules.

Pilots can request SVFR clearance before takeoff or midflight, especially if conditions suddenly change, CNN transportation analyst Peter Goelz said after the crash.

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