Following investigations by Federal investigators, there are indications that the extreme bad weather may be responsible for the crash which claimed Basketball Legend, Kobe Bryant, 41, and his daughter, Gianna, 13, and 7 others who were heading to a basketball game in Thousand Oaks on Sunday in Calabasas, California.
According to investigators, the helicopter manned by Ara Zobayan was flying on”special visual flight rules” (SVFR) which allows a pilot to fly in weather conditions worse than those allowed for regular visual flight rules (VFR).
The National Transportation Safety Board said that in his last communication with air traffic control, the pilot of the helicopter said he was climbing to avoid a cloud layer. When air traffic control asked him what he planned to do, there was no response, NTSB board member Jennifer Homendy told reporters.
Visibility was extremely low Sunday morning — so low, the Los Angeles Police Department decided to grounds its helicopters, department spokesman Josh Rubenstein said.
Homendy said investigators believe the helicopter was flying under visual flight rules from John Wayne Airport in Orange County to just southeast of Burbank Airport.
Around Burbank, the pilot requested to fly under special permission, Homendy said. An SVFR clearance allows a pilot to fly in weather conditions worse than those allowed for regular visual flight rules (VFR).
Pilots can request the clearance before takeoff or during the flight if weather conditions suddenly change, CNN transportation analyst Peter Goelz said. SVFR clearance is “pretty normal,” Goelz said, but “it’s not something that’s often recommended.”
The helicopter circled for 12 minutes until air traffic control approved SVFR clearance, Homendy said.
When the pilot flew into the Burbank and Van Nuys airspace at 1,400 feet, heading south and then west, he requested radar assistance to avoid traffic, Homendy said. But air traffic control said the helicopter was too low to provide that assistance.
Zobayan said he was going to climb higher and air traffic controllers responded, but they never heard back. Radar data indicated the helicopter climbed 2,300 feet and began a left descending turn, she said.
The last radar contact was around 9:45 a.m Sunday, Homendy said.
Pilot had thousands of hours of flight time
Zobayan, who was manning the helicopter, was experienced and had 8,200 hours of flight time as of July 2019, Homendy said.
He had been working with Island Express Helicopters — which owned and operated the Sikorsky S-76B — for a number of years, she said.
NTSB investigators are looking at pilot records, weather information, ATC communications and the wreckage as part of the investigation.
In a written statement posted to its website Island Express said, “We are working closely with the National Transportation Safety Board 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 chopper is reliable, safe and capable, aviation analyst Miles O’Brien told CNN.
“It’s a workhorse,” O’Brien said. “It’s the flying Lincoln Town Car for executives. This is what corporate helicopter aviation is built on — on this Sikorsky.