Kobe’s Helicopter crash was due to pilot neglecting early warnings

The pilot of the doomed flight, Ara Zobayan, was licensed to fly by cockpit instruments, but he likely had little real-world experience in doing so given the operating limitations of Island Express Helicopters, says Kurt Deetz, a former pilot for the company who flew Bryant for two years.On a morning when heavy fog and low clouds were reported in parts of the Los Angeles area, and law enforcement agencies and helicopter tour companies weren’t flying their choppers, the last radio communication from Zobayan to air traffic controllers was that he was climbing to try to get above a layer of clouds.

The helicopter that crashed Sunday killing basketball star Kobe Bryant and eight others was owned by a charter company that only operated under visual flight rules, and its pilots were not permitted to fly solely based on their cockpit gauges if they encountered weather that limited visibility, a former pilot for the company told Forbes. The pilot of the doomed flight, Ara Zobayan, was licensed to fly by cockpit instruments, but he likely had little real-world experience in doing so given the operating limitations of Island Express Helicopters, says Kurt Deetz, a former pilot for the company who flew Bryant for two years.

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On a morning when heavy fog and low clouds were reported in parts of the Los Angeles area, and law enforcement agencies and helicopter tour companies weren’t flying their choppers, the last radio communication from Zobayan to air traffic controllers was that he was climbing to try to get above a layer of clouds.

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Capital One BRANDVOICE | Paid Program6 Tucked-Away Art Masterpieces Worth A Special Trip“I don’t think he had any actual [experience] inside the clouds,” says Deetz, who notes that it can be unnerving for pilots limited to operating under visual flight rules, or VFR. “You spend your whole career thinking, ‘I shouldn’t do this.’

”It’s unknown whether Zobayan’s visibility was in fact impaired, but soon after his last radio message, which came while the Sikorsky S-76B helicopter was headed west following the Ventura Freeway, it ascended to 2,300 feet and then turned abruptly to the south into the Santa Monica Mountains near Calabasas, where it quickly lost altitude and crashed on a slope at 1,085 feet in elevation, according to the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the accident.

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Island Express Helicopters, a Long Beach-based company that has seven helicopters registered to it and a related holding corporation, is certified under Part 135 of FAA regulations to provide on-demand charter services.

The regulations impose tight specifications on how air carriers operate, including what kind of weather conditions they can fly in. It’s financially demanding and time-consuming for a company to ensure it and its pilots can operate under instrument flight rules, or IFR, says Deetz, and in the Los Angeles area, with its usually balmy weather, he says it isn’t worth it for most helicopter operators, apart from emergency medical services.

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