Kobe Bryant's Helicopter Reportedly Circled Burbank for 15 Minutes, Pilot Relied 'on Eyesight Rather Than Instruments'

The helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant was reportedly flying irregularly before its fatal crash on Sunday morning. The aircraft was given "special clearance to fly at or below 2,500 feet in dangerous weather conditions," according to newly released audio on LiveATC.net. From the sound of it, the fog played a significant role in the copter's crash.

Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna were killed on Sunday when the helicopter they were flying in went down. The pilot has now been identified as Ara Zobayan, and in the audio from the flight, Zobayan could be heard discussing special flight plans with air traffic controllers at Burbank Airport.

"Maintain special VFR at or below 2,500," Zobayan said in confirmation.

Special visual flight rules, or SVFR give a pilot permission to fly in weather conditions that are worse than those usually allowed by air traffic controllers. SVFR clearance is only issued when the cloud ceiling is below 1,000 feet, according to a report by The Daily Mail.

It is dangerous to fly so close to the ground for prolonged periods of time. It can disorient a pilot, especially if they are relying on their eyes at such an altitude.

This was the case with Zobayan, who reportedly seemed to veer from the flight path just over U.S. Route 101. The helicopter also circled over Burbank for about 15 minutes, partially at the request of air traffic controllers. After 11 minutes, they were cleared to enter Burbank's air space.

Flight conditions were already noted as poor when Zobayan took off on Sunday morning. There was an overcast at 1,300 feet, and he would have had visibility of about five miles. He was flying with VFR clearance from the start, though he could have requested permission to switch to instrument flight rules (IFR) after passing Burbank. However, travel by IFR takes longer — particularly in southern California, where there is a lot of air traffic.


While the audio was illuminating, it did not seem to indicate any distress calls or other urgency in the pilot's communication with air traffic controllers. This crash is sure to be heavily investigated for a long time, and from multiple different angles.

Bryant and Gianna were traveling with six other passengers on Sunday, including Keri Altobelli, who played on Gianna's basketball team, and her parents. They were all headed to a tournament at Bryant's Mamba Academy in Thousand Oaks. There were no survivors in the crash.