The pilot of a helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant, daughter Gianna, and eight others that crashed into a Calabasas hillside Jan. 26 killing everyone on board, violated federal flight rules in 2015 when he flew into busy airspace near LAX in spite of being told not to by air traffic control. According to this information obtained by the Los Angeles Times from Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records, Ara Zobayan was flying northbound in an AS350 chopper when he was denied clearance to go into the airspace because of weather conditions had reduced visibility below what is known as visual flight rules or VFR.
Prior Violation in Similar Conditions
FAA officials said Zobayan took responsibility for this violation and underwent counseling. The agency, however, faulted him for lack of preparation saying in its report that had he properly planned and reviewed current weather at LAX, “he would have been able to anticipate the required action to transit…resulting in proper coordination.” Federal authorities are still looking into Zobayan’s actions during last month’s fatal flight when he veered out of control after flying into heavy clouds. Zobayan was also killed in this crash.
During the May 2015 flight that is mentioned in the report, Zobayan was flying for Island Express Helicopters, the same charter company where he worked for a long time in the years leading up to the crash. It is unclear who he was transporting at the time. An FAA investigator who looked into his violation did not recommend remedial training and instead opted to counsel the pilot in several areas including operating in airspace around large airports, special VFR weather minimums, proper planning, and reviewing weather.
On Jan. 26, investigators who are looking into the fatal crash, say Zobayan was struggling with poor visibility just before the aircraft slammed into the hillside. Both incidents had inclement weather in common. Pilots are required to check weather conditions along the route of the flight. LAPD had grounded its choppers on Jan. 26 because of the fog. Helicopter pilots and aviation experts have agreed that while flying in less-than-ideal conditions is fairly common for experienced pilots, flying in conditions where visibility is decreasing, poses an extreme danger.
Even as Bryant’s memorial service takes place today at Staples Center, and we all try to make sense of this horrific tragedy, it is important to stay focused on this investigation so future tragedies can be averted and the at-fault parties are held accountable for several families’ irrevocable losses.