New details surrounding the helicopter crash in California that killed Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, and seven other people suggest that the tragic accident could have been prevented. Island Express Helicopters, the charter company that owned the Sikorsky S-76B that crashed, was only certified to operate under visual flight rules and was not permitted to fly in inclement weather in which a pilot would need to fly using only the instruments in the cockpit.
The pilot, Ara Zobayan, was licensed to fly by cockpit instruments, but according to a former pilot for the company, he likely had no real-world experience flying in foggy conditions.
According to the New York Times, it is not uncommon for charter companies to forgo the expense of getting FAA certification to operate in poor weather conditions. None of the other companies that are based out of Van Nuys Airport are certified to operate when conditions require pilots to rely solely on the instruments in their cockpit.
While officials have not determined the exact cause of the tragic accident, weather conditions were not ideal for flying on the morning of the crash. The fog was so heavy that the Los Angeles Police Department decided to ground their helicopters as a precaution.
Zobayan's last communication with air traffic controllers indicated that he was trying to ascend above the heavy cloud cover. As he reached an altitude around 2,300 feet, he made an abrupt turn to the south and quickly lost altitude before crashing into a slope at 1,085 feet.
Island Express Helicopters announced that they suspended all flights following the accident.