LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — The pilot of the helicopter that crashed in Calabasas last month, killing Kobe Bryant and eight others, violated federal flight rules in 2015, according to records from the Federal Aviation Administration.
The report, obtained by CBS Los Angeles, says that Ara Zobayan was flying northbound in an AS350 helicopter May 2015 when he was denied clearance to fly through airspace near Los Angeles International Airport due to reduced visibility caused by adverse weather conditions. It was not immediately clear where Zobayan was flying that day or whether there were any passengers in the helicopter.
The report says Zobayan, a pilot for Island Express Helicopter at the time, was flying near the Hawthorne Airport and the 105 Freeway when he contacted a tower at LAX to obtain clearance to fly through the airspace. The tower told Zobayan that the airfield was reporting less than minimum visual flight rule standards and asked him if he could maintain a visual flight rules while flying through the airspace.
Zobayan then asked for a special clearance that would have allowed him to continue flying into the airspace despite poor visibility, but his request was denied. He then backtracked and said he could maintain visual throughout the airspace, the report says.
During the conversation with the tower, Zobayan continued flying northbound and entered the airspace, without approval — violating FAA rules, the report says.
According to the report, Zobayan took responsibility and underwent counseling for the violation, but was faulted for his lack of preparation for the flight.
"Had Mr. Zobayan properly planned and reviewed current weather at LAX, he would have been able to anticipate the required action to transit (the airspace), resulting in proper coordination, a proper request, and elimination of confusing terminology," the report says.
An FAA investigator who was not named in the report did not recommend remedial training for Zobayan, instead opting for counseling in several areas including operating in airspace around large airports, special visual flight rule weather minimums, proper planning, reviewing weather and anticipating required action.
"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 other (Island Express Helicopter) personnel," that investigator wrote.
The report said Zobayan reported the incident to Island Express and the FAA. Island Express told federal investigators that they conducted additional training with Zobayan.
Investigators are continuing to try to determine the cause of the deadly Jan. 26 helicopter crash, a process that is likely to take months, though it has been said that Zobayan was struggling with low visibility in the moments before the helicopter crashed into the Calabasas hillside.
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