Kobe crash pilot ‘violated flight rules’
The pilot of a helicopter that crashed into an LA hillside killing NBA star Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gigi and seven others once violated federal flight rules by flying over airspace against the orders of air traffic control, according to a new report.
Ara Zobayan in 2015 was denied clearance to fly an AS350 into the airspace because of reduced visibility and weather conditions, the Los Angeles Times reported.
"Had Mr. Zobayan properly planned and reviewed current weather at LAX, he would have been able to anticipate the required action to transit ... resulting in proper co-ordination," the 2015 report said.
"There are no indications that this is a repeated incident and there are no signs that this incident is a trend with Mr. Zobayan."
Zobayan took responsibility for his mistake and was counselled by an FAA investigator afterwards, the FAA said in the report.
Helicopter pilot Shawn Coyle told The Times the violation was considered minor and he doesn't know a pilot who hasn't violated a rule.
"If that's the only violation he's ever had then I would say he's pretty safe," he said.
Zobayan was attempting to climb out of a cloud layer on January 26 when the chartered helicopter dropped 1,200 feet (400m) into a hillside in the LA suburb of Calabasas, killing everyone on board.
Zobayan was the chief pilot for Island Express Helicopters Inc. at the time of the crash, the same company he flew for in 2015.
Kurt Deetz, a former pilot for Island Express Helicopters, said: "You can't request special VFR and then they deny you and you say, 'Oh wait a minute, actually I'm VFR'," he said.
"That's not how it works. It shows that perhaps his understanding of special VFR, as opposed to VFR, was cloudy."
Island Express reported that it conducted additional ground and flight training with him after the 2015 incident.
In 2015, he requested to continue flying using special visual flight rules (VFR), which would allow him to fly in suboptimal visibility conditions but was denied, unlike last month when he was granted the request.
Kobe and Gigi will be honoured at a sold-out memorial Monday at Staples Center in Los Angeles, where the basketball legend spent his career as a Laker.
The arena seats about 20,000 people for non-sports events. It has previously hosted memorials for Nipsey Hussle and Michael Jackson, the 2009 event for which 17,000 tickets were given away.
The memorial falls on a Monday between two Lakers home games. The memorial will be held several hours before a previously scheduled NBA game between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Memphis Grizzlies.