More details are surfacing about Kobe Bryant's helicopter crash.
The New York Times reports that Island Express Helicopters, which owned the Sikorsky S-76B, did not have the necessary federal certification for its pilots to fly under instrument flight rules.
When pilots use instruments to fly, they are using their cockpit gauges to navigate in instrument meteorological conditions, such as inside clouds.
In his final message to air traffic control, pilot Ara Zobayan told them that he was ascending to avoid a cloud layer. Witnesses reported that they saw the helicopter fly through clouds and fog before it went down in Calabasas.
The helicopter was cleared for takeoff in Orange County, where there was four miles of visibility.
On Thursday, Island Express announced that it was suspending all regular and charter services, but did not comment on the certification reports.
Earlier this week, the company said in a statement, “We are deeply saddened by this tragedy. Our top priority is providing assistance to the families of the passengers and the pilot. We hope that you will respect their privacy at this extremely difficult time. The pilot, Ara Zobayan, was our chief pilot. Ara has been with the company for over 10 years and has over 8,000 flight hours. We are working closely with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to investigate the cause of the accident and we are grateful to the first responders and local authorities for their response to this unimaginable accident.”
At the time of the accident on Sunday, Kobe, Gianna, and seven other victims were en route to the Mamba Academy when the helicopter crashed in Calabasas. It is believed that all victims died instantly.
After body examinations were performed on Tuesday, the cause of death for all nine victims was deemed to be “blunt trauma.” The manner of death was ruled an “accident.”
Earlier this week, NTSB spokeswoman Jennifer Homendy told reporters that the chopper was descending at a rate of 2,000 feet per minute, causing a “high-energy impact.”
She also noted that the Sikorsky S-76B helicopter did not have a “terrain awareness and warning system,” or TAWS, which alerts pilots when they are too close to the ground. As of right now, the FAA only requires the system in air ambulances.
The NTSB is looking at weather and other factors, and has obtained maintenance and airworthiness records. Interviews with air traffic controllers and the helicopter's operators are underway.
The NTSB will likely issue a preliminary report with more details in the next 10 days. A still more detailed follow-up will be issued in 12 to 18 months.