The helicopter that crashed and killed Kobe Bryant and 8 others was reportedly not certified to fly in poor visibility

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
  • The helicopter that crashed with Kobe Bryant and eight others on board didn’t have clearance to fly in poor visibility, according to The New York Times.
  • Island Express Helicopters, which owned the Sikorsky S-76B aircraft, was certified to fly only under visual flight rules.
  • This means a pilot must be able to see the ground and can’t rely solely on instruments.
  • Audio posted on YouTube suggests that the pilot got special clearance, known as special visual flight rules, to fly through the fog in which he ultimately crashed.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The helicopter that crashed Sunday with Kobe Bryant and eight others on board was not certified to fly in poor visibility conditions, according to a new report.

Three sources familiar with the helicopter company’s operations told The New York Times that Island Express Helicopters was limited by the Federal Aviation Administration to working under visual flight rules.

Visual flight rules mean pilots can fly only in conditions in which they can see the ground and are barred from flying solely by using their instruments, which is the norm for foggy or dark conditions.

According to The Times, the pilot, Ara Zobayan, did have instrument certification. But even though he had that ability, he was bound by the company’s certification not to rely on it.

Audio posted on YouTube by the channel VASAviation suggests that Zobayan was given an unusual clearance, known as special visual flight rules, to fly in foggy conditions in the minutes before the crash.

Business Insider could not immediately reach Island Express Helicopters for comment on Thursday.

On Monday, Island Express Helicopters released a statement about the crash, which killed everyone aboard:

“One of our helicopters, N72EX, Sikorsky S76, was involved in an accident on Sunday, January 26th in the Calabasas area of LA County.

“We are deeply saddened by this tragedy. Our top priority is providing assistance to the families of the passengers and the pilot. We hope that you will respect their privacy at this extremely difficult time.

“The pilot, Ara Zobayan, was our chief pilot. Ara has been with the company for over 10 years and has over 8,000 flight hours.

“We are working closely with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to investigate the cause of the accident and we are grateful to the first responders and local authorities for their response to this unimaginable accident.”

The company announced Thursday that it would suspend all regular and charter 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 company said.

Investigators are still looking into the cause of the helicopter crash.

The National Transportation Safety Board member Jennifer Homendy said on Tuesday that the aircraft did not have a warning system that could have alerted the pilot of the hills below him.

She said the pilot had been ascending to avoid a cloud layer just before the helicopter crashed.

“Radar data indicates the helicopter climbed to 2,300 feet and then began a left descending turn,” Homendy said.

The helicopter missed clearing a hill by 20 to 30 feet, she said. Its descent rate was 2,000 feet a minute, which she referred to as a “high-energy-impact crash.”

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