Kobe Bryant Crash: Helicopter Pilot Was Previously Reprimanded for Violating FAA Rules During Poor Weather

Nearly a month following the tragic helicopter crash that took the lives of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna Bryant, and seven others, new details have emerged about the pilot of the aircraft, Ara Zobayan. According to a new report from the Los Angeles Times, Zobayan had previously been disciplined by the FAA over a weather-related flight violation back in 2015.

The LA Times reported that Zobayan was flying northbound in an AS350 helicopter near LAX in May 2015. He contacted a tower near the LAX airspace in order to gain clearance to fly through. The tower reportedly responded to say that the airfield was reporting less than three miles of visibility in the area in addition to a cloud ceiling at least 1,000 feet above the ground. The report went on to detail that Zobayan, who had been relying on his sight, then requested to fly through with special VFR (visual flight rules), a request that was later denied.

Zobayan reportedly then backtracked and said that he could maintain VFR. He then reportedly continued northbound through the airspace without approval, a violation of FAA rules. The investigator into the incident, who was not named in the enforcement report that the LA Times obtained about Zobayan's violation, later counseled the pilot in a variety of areas such as proper planning and special VFR minimums in lieu of remedial training.

"There are no indications that this is a repeated incident and there are no signs that this incident is a trend with Mr. Zobayan or any other [Island Express Helicopter] personnel," the investigator wrote about the reported incident.

On Jan. 26, the day of the tragic crash involving Kobe, Gianna, and seven others, Zobayan also reportedly dealt with poor visibility conditions due to the foggy weather in the area. According to the New York Times, before the helicopter ultimately crashed, Zobayan had requested special permission to fly through low-visibility control zones around Burbank and the Van Nuys airport.

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Zobayan was certified to fly with his instruments in the event of low visibility, per the NY Times. However, the certification that the FAA gave to Island Express Helicopters, the company that owned the helicopter, only allows pilots to fly visually when they have a half-mile of daytime visibility and can see the ground.

Zobayan later attempted to climb above 4,000 feet in order to get above the clouds, but the aircraft subsequently crashed in Calabasas, California shortly thereafter. All nine people who were aboard the helicopter, including Zobayan, Kobe, and Gianna, perished in the crash.