February 04, 2020
The pilot in charge of Kobe Bryant's helicopter was not legally allowed to fly in poor visibility because the aircraft charter company lacked the federal certification required to operate choppers by cockpit instruments.
According to a report by the New York Times, Ara Zobayan, the seasoned pilot who died alongside Kobe, his daughter, and seven others in the January 26 crash, "was required to fly only in conditions of sufficient visibility to navigate visually."
The atmosphere was foggy on Sunday morning when Kobe's helicopter, the Sikorsky S-76B, crashed on a hillside in Calabasas, California. As ABC News reported, even the LA police department had to ground its fleet of choppers because of the unfavorable weather condition.
Vanessa broke her social media silence last Wednesday with a poignant tribute that spoke volumes of her family's pain
Ara was reportedly certified to fly the chopper by the sophisticated instruments onboard. Still, the charter company only had a Federal Aviation Administration operating certification that allowed pilots to fly under visual flight rules or VFR.
In a statement published by NBC News, the FAA explained:
"Speaking generally, a pilot has to observe any limitations on the company he or she works for, regardless of the pilot’s personal ratings. If a company is not authorized to conduct flights in bad weather conditions, the pilot while flying for that company can only conduct flights in visual conditions."
The FAA noted, however, that "a pilot has a lot of discretion in how to respond to an emergency situation." In other words, pilots can choose how they will respond if an emergency occurs during a flight.
According to the Times, several helicopter charter operators confirmed that not having an instrument flight certification was not strange. The companies did not bother with one in part because Southern California weather was mostly always sunny.
Minutes before Sunday's tragic crash, Ara had reportedly messaged air traffic control, letting them know he was going higher to avoid a cloud layer. Witnesses reported seeing the aircraft fly through a layer of cloud and fog before it came crashing down.
Following days of investigating the crash, the National Transportation Safety Board discovered that Kobe's leased plane lacked a Terrain Awareness and Warning System (TAWS), which alerts a pilot when an aircraft gets too close to the ground.
The FAA currently makes it compulsory that air ambulances have a TAWS installation, but the NTSB is now asking that the warning system be mandated for all choppers. NTSB staff Jennifer Homendy, however, noted that it's not sure if TAWS could have prevented Kobe's crash.
After nearly a week of investigating, the LA coroner's office confirmed the identities of all the passengers killed in the crash. Besides Kobe and his 13-year-old daughter, Gigi, there were seven more deceased.
The group was headed to a youth basketball game at Kobe's Mamba Sports Academy and included Gigi's teammate Alyssa Altobelli and Alyssa's parents, John and Keri. Another teammate, Payton Chester, was on board with her mom Sarah. Girls' basketball coach Christina Mauser and Ara, the pilot, also lost their lives.
There has been mourning across the globe as fans of the late basketball legend share tributes and set up memorials in honor of his memory. Some of those tributes, according to CNN, will be sent to his widow, Vanessa Bryant.
Kobe, 41, and Vanessa, 37, were married in 2001, and besides the late Gigi, shared three other daughters – Natalia, 17, Bianka, three, and baby Capri, who was born last June.
Vanessa broke her social media silence last Wednesday with a poignant tribute that spoke volumes of her family's pain and devastation. She has also been posting tributes to her late husband and daughter since then.
After officially identifying the crash victims last week and determining the cause of death to be blunt force trauma, the coroner's office revealed that their bodies have now been released to their respective families. May the souls of the departed rest in peace.
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