Kobe Bryant’s helicopter pilot received special clearance to fly despite severe weather conditions

The helicopter involved in a deadly crash while carrying nine people, including Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, received special clearances to fly despite foggy conditions that caused local officials to ground flights.
Ara Zobayan, who was piloting Bryant’s Sikorsky S-76 during the tragic incident, was “instrument rated”, meaning he was “rated to fly in fog” and other difficult weather conditions.
Mr Zobayan, who was reportedly a respected pilot in the aviation community, requested permission from local officials to fly on Sunday just before the crash that killed all nine people on board including the helicopter pilot.
He was provided Special Visual Flight Rules clearance to make the trip in Southern California, according to the New York Times, and later lost radio contact with officials while in the air.
Before losing contact, Mr Zobayan also requested “flight following”, so officials on the ground could track the helicopter’s path and remain in regular contact. It was not immediately clear whether this was requested as a result of the poor weather conditions.
Air traffic control at Burbank Airport was unable to fulfil the pilot’s request, however, saying the helicopter was “too low level for flight following at this time”, according to audio records.
The cause of the fatal crash also remained unknown as of Monday morning. An investigation has been launched by the Los Angeles police department.
In a statement to CBS News, LAPD spokesperson Josh Rubenstein confirmed the fog on Sunday morning “was enough that we were not flying”.
He also confirmed the police department’s Air Support Division had grounded local flights that day.
Jennifer Homendy, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, also said the board would conduct a probe into the crash.
“We’ll be looking at maintenance records of the helicopter,” she said in a statement to The New York Times. “We will be looking at records of the owner and operator of the helicopter and a number of other things.”
Mr Zobayan was reportedly a highly-experienced pilot who “taught aspiring [helicopter] pilots to fly” and was “very much loved in the aviation community”, according to KTLA’s Christina Pascucci, a licensed pilot.
The journalist said in a tweet that Mr Zobayan’s friends wrote him a final message reading: “Rest easy as you take your final flight to heaven.”
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