Aro Zobayan the pilot that flew the ill-fated helicopter that crashed in Calabasas on Sunday, killing nine people, including Zobayan and retired Lakers Star Kobe Bryant was an experienced flier and a certified pilot who had clocked more than 8000 hours of flight time.
At the time of his death, Aro Zobayan was 50 years old and he leaves a girlfriend of 11 years and her two children who he treated like his own. The pilot was of Armenian descent. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, Zobayan was a certified flight instructor and by Monday after the accident, he had logged 8200 hrs of flight time as of July. He was the chief pilot of Island Express and after working for them for a decade, he was the go-to pilot that flew Kobe and his family from an airport near his home in Orange County to a Los Angeles County airport near his 13-year-Old daughter Gianna’s basketball practice at the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks. Flight records indicate the Zobayan had flown the same trip from John Wayne Airport for more than 20 times.
Data from the Sikorsky S-76B shows a rapid climb and then fast descent, which ended when the chopper slammed into the hillside at about 1400 feet at a speed of 161 knots. According to aviation experts, flying using just normal vision without instruments can be extremely disorienting and the weather conditions might have confused the pilot making him go into a fatal dive. The vehicle, a Sikorsky S-76B was 30 years old at the time of the crash and it had spent several years with the state of Illinois before getting sold to Island Express in 2015.
On the day of the crash, flight conditions were poor, with ceilings as low as 300 feet, meaning thick clouds were forming not far above the ground and visibility above them was impossible. According to the Los Angeles Police Department, they indicated that fog had grounded all of their aircraft, and an employee at a helicopter charter service that does business in the area said, “it was a no-fly day for us and pretty much all operators.”
All nine people aboard the helicopter died when it crashed in a remote field in Calabasas, California. So far only Bryant, Pilot Ara Zobayan and two others have been identified. The other crash victims include Bryant’s daughter Gianna, and Gianna’s basketball teammate Alyssa Altobelli, her mother Keri, and her father John. A basketball assistant coach, Christina Mauser was also killed in the crash as was Payton Chester, another basketball teammate, and Payton’s mother.
As investigations continue about the fiery helicopter crash that took the lives of nine people including Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, the National Transportation Safety Board team, along with officials from the Federal Aviation Administration and the FBI will be investigating the crash. The NTSB plans to issue a report in 10 days although a report with conclusions about the cause of the crash could take 18 months. The investigations will look at the helicopter’s maintenance records as well as debris, the pilot’s experience, and actions, the weather, and what officials are calling the “cascade of errors” that occur as an emergency escalates, especially in foggy conditions such as Sunday’s. The investigation will take time as the helicopter was not equipped with a terrain avoidance warning system or a black box of the type typical on airplanes. Hope is that the pilot will be absolved when the investigations are finally concluded.