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Rescuers complete recovery of all nine bodies from helicopter crash that killed NBA legend Kobe Bryant
The charter company whose helicopter crashed and killed Kobe Bryant was not certified to fly in conditions that require pilots to only use cockpit instruments.
Island Express Helicopters, which owned the Sikorsky S-76B that crashed in California on Sunday, was only certified to operate under visual flight rules, which means pilots must be able to clearly see outside the aircraft in daylight.
While the pilot was licensed for instrument flying, he didn't have legal authority for that specific flight because the charter company did not have the necessary Federal Aviation Administration certification, sources told the New York Times.
The aircraft was equipped for instrument flying.
The company has since revealed they are grounding all flights in the wake of the crash that killed Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others.
The pilot in Sunday's crash, Ara Zobayan, had been climbing out of the clouds when the chartered aircraft went into a sudden and terrifying 1,200-foot descent that lasted nearly a minute.
It slammed into a fog-shrouded hillside, scattering debris more than 500 feet.
The aircraft shown in this image was the Sikorsky S76 that crashed on Sunday killing all nine people on board. Island Express which owned the helicopter has grounded all its services in the wake of the crash
The S-76 helicopter that crashed into a California hillside killing Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others on Sunday was not equipped with vital software that alerts pilots when aircraft are too close to the ground
Air traffic controllers had given Zobayan special visual flight rules (SVFR) or clearance to fly in the less-than-optimal weather around the Burbank airport.
He was told to follow a freeway and stay at or below 2,500 feet. Under a SVFR clearance, pilots are allowed to fly in weather conditions worse than those allowed for visual flight rules (VFR). Special VFR clearances are only issued when cloud ceilings are below 1,000 feet above ground level.
Due to the poor visibility, the pilot could have contacted air traffic controllers and requested to switch to instrument flight rules (IFR), which would have allowed him to navigate through the clouds.
The pilot in Sunday's crash, Ara Zobayan, had been climbing out of the clouds when the chartered aircraft went into a sudden and terrifying 1,200-foot descent that lasted nearly a minute
Kurt Deetz, a pilot and former safety manager at the company, said the pilot most likely had little experience in instrumental flying given the company's operating limitations.
'There is only one way you can be in the clouds, on an IFR (instrument flight rules) flight plan or by accident,' Deetz said.
The details about the company's lack of certification now prompts questions as to why the pilot didn't file a instrument flight plan that would have enabled him to climb above the fog en route to their destination.
Sources say it is not unusual for companies, especially in Southern California, to have limitations on certifications for instrument flights given the weather is normally sunny and clear.
The owner of a different charter company said no local services maintain the certification that enables instrument flights because it means increased training and higher insurance.
Claudia Lowry, who owns Group 3 Aviation, said local police helicopters don't even maintain the certification.
'It's not worth it, we don't fly in that kind of weather anyway,' she said. 'And most of the time the weather is good.'
National Transportation Safety Board officials are currently reviewing the company's certifications.
Island Express Helicopters refused to answer questions about its certification.
Investigator Carol Hogan examines wreckage at the crash site where Kobe Bryant's helicopter slammed into a hillside
A piece of the tail section of the helicopter is seen amid the wreckage which crash investigators have been examining
Island Express Helicopters is a family run business that was founded in Long Beach, California back in 1982.
It is owned by John Moore.
According to the company's LinkedIn page, the company is well-known for its charter flihts and running tours to Catalina Island.
The company also boasts of having a large fleet, including three Sikorsky S76s - one of which crashed with Kobe Bryant on board.
Island Express was subjected to a lawsuit after a fatal crash in May 2008 involving its Eurocopter AS-350 helicopter.
The crash killed the pilot, an employee and a local school teacher, while three others on board were injured.
An investigation revealed the crash was likely caused by a fatigue fracture in the turbine blade.
The family of the employee who died filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Island Express, which was settled for an undisclosed amount.
They did, however, say in a separate statement that it was suspending all services.
'The shock of the accident affected all staff, and management decided that the service would be suspended until such time as it was deemed appropriate for staff and customers,' the company said.
Island Express had earlier said it was 'deeply saddened by the tragedy' and its top priority was providing assistance to the families of the passengers and the pilot.
The pilot had been with the company for over 10 years and had completed more than 8,000 flight hours.
The company said it had been working with the National Transportation Safety Board to investigate the cause of the accident.
It comes as the manufacturer of the helicopter, Sikorsky, was urging customers to install a critical warning system that was missing from Bryant's chopper.
Investigators revealed on Wednesday that the terrain awareness and warning system (TAWS), which is designed to send a warning when a collision appears imminent, had not been installed on Bryant's helicopter.
While Sikorsky regularly provides updates on technology updates, sources told TMZ that they are calling customers and making it a top priority following Bryant's death.
National Transportation Safety Board officials say it is too early to tell whether a TAWS on Bryant's Sikorsky helicopter could have prevented the crash.
But they think it should have been installed on the aircraft and they criticized federal regulators for not carrying out the NTSB's recommendation over a decade ago to mandate such equipment on helicopters with six or more passenger seats.
The warning system is required in medical helicopters but not in commercial ones like the one used by Bryant.
This graphic shows the final fatal flight taken by the helicopter before it crashed into a Calabasas hillside on Sunday morning amid cloudy and foggy weather conditions
The death of the basketball star has highlighted the debate over the merits of the warning systems.
While the crash has led to calls for warning systems to be installed in more helicopters, regulators and pilots have since raised fears that the instrument can trigger too many alarms and prove distracting.
'Another warning system screaming at you isn't going to help,' Brian Alexander, a helicopter pilot and aviation lawyer, said.
'You don't want to inundate the pilot.'
While some pilots believe TAWS is unnecessary and refer to its warnings as 'nuisance alarms', Peter Goelz, a former managing director of the NTSB, said there is 'no reasonable excuse' for the system not to be installed on all choppers.
'From a safety perspective, you want all the safety enhancements that are available,' he said. 'The trade-off is worth it.'
The NTSB recommended that the FFA require the system after a Sikorsky S-76A carrying workers to an offshore drilling ship, crashed in the Gulf of Mexico near Galveston, Texas, killing all 10 people aboard in 2004.
A decade later, the FAA mandated such systems on air ambulances only.
FAA officials had questioned the value of such technology on helicopters, which tend to fly close to buildings and the ground and could trigger too many alarms.
Bill English, investigator in charge of the NTSB's Major Investigations Division, said it was not clear yet whether 'TAWS and this scenario are related to each other.'
The pilot was well-acquainted with the skies over Los Angeles and accustomed to flying Bryant and other celebrities.
Rescuers recovered the bodies of all nine victims from a helicopter crash near Los Angeles that killed NBA legend Kobe Bryant, the coroner's office confirmed Tuesday.
Three bodies were retrieved from the scattered wreckage by a special response team on Sunday - the day of the crash.
The remaining six were located as the search resumed in rugged terrain Monday.
In a statement, the Los Angeles County coroner's office said the remains were 'removed from the crash site and transported to the department's forensic science center' for examination and identification.
Bryant, 41, was traveling with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other passengers and crew when the Sikorsky S-76 slammed into a rugged hillside in thick fog in Calabasas, northwest of Los Angeles.
Also killed were John Altobelli, 56, longtime head coach of Southern California's Orange Coast College baseball team; his wife, Keri; and daughter, Alyssa, who played on the same basketball team as Bryant's daughter; and Christina Mauser, a girls' basketball coach at a Southern California elementary school.
Another young player, Payton Chester, was also killed in the crash along with her mother Sarah Chester.
Rescuers recovered the bodies of all nine victims from a helicopter crash near Los Angeles that killed NBA legend Kobe Bryant, the coroner's office confirmed Tuesday. Officials are seen removing remains from the site
Three bodies were retrieved from the scattered wreckage by a special response team on Sunday - the day of the crash. The remaining six were located as the search resumed in rugged terrain Monday
In a statement, the Los Angeles County coroner's office said the remains were 'removed from the crash site and transported to the department's forensic science center' for examination and identification
The pilot, Ara Zobayan, 50, was the ninth victim. He was the chief pilot for the aircraft's owner, Island Express Helicopters. The company said the pilot had more than 10 years of experience and had logged more than 8,000 flight hours.
He also was a flight instructor who had flown Bryant and other celebrities several times before.
Zobayan was instrument-rated, which means he was qualified to fly in fog.
Investigators said they are 'actively working on' identifying the individual remains before officially notifying next of kin.
A five-time NBA champion for his only team, the LA Lakers, and a double Olympic gold medalist, Bryant was widely regarded as one of the greatest basketball players in history.
He was traveling on his private helicopter from Orange County, where he lived, to his Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks where his daughter was set to play.
Investigators will remain at the site of the crash throughout the week to collect evidence, hoping to find clues as to what caused the accident that stunned the world.
Jennifer Homendy, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, described the accident scene as 'pretty devastating,' with wreckage spread across about 600 feet.
Though officials are still investigating the cause of the crash, several experts have questioned why Zobayan took the flight despite the weather conditions.
Bryant, 41, was traveling with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna (left) and seven other passengers and crew when the Sikorsky S-76 slammed into a rugged hillside in thick fog in Calabasas, northwest of Los Angeles
Among those killed in the crash were John Altobelli (left), 56, longtime head coach of Southern California's Orange Coast College baseball team; his wife, Keri (left, with John); and daughter, Alyssa (right), who played on the same basketball team as Bryant's daughter
Christina Mauser (right), a girls' basketball coach at a Southern California elementary school, was also killed. The ninth victim was the pilot, Ara Zobayan (left)
Another young player, Payton Chester (left), was also killed in the crash along with her mother Sarah Chester (right)
Robert Ditchey, a veteran airplane pilot, aeronautical engineer and former airline executive, told USA Today that the crash 'was totally avoidable'.
'And on the part of some people I can go as far as to say irresponsible,' Ditchey added.
'Here’s one of the most important people in the world who comes to a tragic end like this and you say, "Why? What the hell happened?"'
Bryant's helicopter left Santa Ana in Orange County, south of Los Angeles, shortly after 9am on Sunday, a time when conditions were not suitable for flying, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.
There was an overcast at 1,300 feet and visibility of about five miles. Zobayan was initially flying under VFR, meaning that he was relying on his ability to see the terrain below him.
The weather was so foggy that the Los Angeles Police Department and the county sheriff's department had grounded their own choppers.
Ditchey questioned why anybody would hop on a helicopter in what he called 'very scary conditions'.
'The weather is not good enough for the police to fly,' Ditchey told USA Today. 'Why should Kobe do it?'
Though officials are still investigating the cause of the crash, several experts have questioned why Zobayan took the flight despite the weather conditions. This graphic shows the latter part of the helicopter's journey and the changes in altitude and speed ahead of the crash
Around 9.20am, the helicopter circled for about 15 minutes just east of Interstate 5, near Glendale. Air traffic controllers held up the helicopter for other aircraft for about 11 minutes, before clearing the Sikorsky S-76 to proceed north along Interstate 5 through Burbank's airspace.
It was revealed on Monday that Zobayan was given a special clearance to fly under worse than normal weather conditions.
In audio captured by LiveATC.net Zobayan is heard requesting to fly under special visual flight rules (SVFR).
Zobayan was told to follow a freeway and stay at or below 2,500 feet, according to radio traffic.
Sunday's weather conditions continued to worsen as Ara Zobayan piloted the Sikorsky S-76B that was carrying Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter and six other passengers.
It was already a foggy day and the Los Angeles Police Department grounded their choppers due to the conditions.
Zobayan decided to fly under visual flight rules (VFR), which meant he was relying on his eyes to avoid obstacles.
But visibility began to decrease even more as he approached Glendale where he circled for about 15 minutes while waiting for air traffic control clearance. He maintained an altitude of 750ft and speed of 72mph.
Once he was cleared to head over Burbank, Zobayan began to climb and accelerate. He maintained an altitude of 800ft and speed of 148mph.
While following US Route 101 up to Northridge, he continued his climb under special visual flight rules. He maintained an altitude of 1,400ft and speed of 160mph.
The pilot continued to climb; however he reduced his speed as he approached Calabasas. Experts believe this may have been a point where he attempted to avoid an obstacle. He climbed to an altitude of 2,000ft and slowed to 152mph.
It's also believed that the pilot may have been going too fast. Even at 120mph, that would’ve only given the pilot 30 seconds to avoid a mountain range, experts say.
Experts have said that the pilot’s high speed could've meant that he was 'completely out of control’ and turned off course. It’s believed that the pilot got confused in the fog and went into a fatal dive at 500 feet in 15 seconds.
The aircraft was on its way to Camarillo Airport in Ventura County and from there Bryant and the passengers were supposed to attend a tournament at the NBA star's Mamba Sports Academy.
'Maintain special VFR at or below 2,500,' the pilot is heard confirming to the controller at Burbank Airport.
A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) official noted a pilot 'does not get a general, or blanket, clearance from the FAA to fly in these conditions. A pilot is responsible for determining whether it is safe to fly in current and expected conditions'.
Under an SVFR clearance, pilots are allowed to fly in weather conditions worse than those allowed for visual flight rules (VFR). Special VFR clearances are only issued when cloud ceilings are below 1,000 feet above ground level.
Flying that low to the ground can be very disorienting and risky, and it's possible that the pilot became disoriented due to the visibility conditions when the helicopter appeared to veer off its path above US Route 101.
Air traffic controllers noted poor visibility around Burbank, just to the north, and Van Nuys, to the northwest. Due to the poor visibility, the pilot could have contacted air traffic controllers and requested to switch to instrument flight rules (IFR), which would have allowed him to navigate through the clouds.
However, when pilots fly under IFR, it can take up a lot of time, especially in Southern California, which has an extremely busy airspace.
Pilots flying under IFR will have to begin 20 miles or more away from the runway and are required to use special instructions in the form of diagrams called approach plates in order to land
The aircraft continued under special VFR and around 9.40am it turned west to follow US Route 101, the Ventura Highway.
A short time later, the helicopter turned again, toward the southeast, and climbed to more than 2,000 feet, in what appeared to be an attempt to put some space between the helicopter and the high terrain.
In air traffic control audio, the pilot is told by a controller that 'you're still too low level' to be tracked by radar.
This did not appear to be a sign of distress, because the helicopter was actually ascending at the time and the controller was referring to the technical difficulty with reading data rather than warning of an imminent crash.
About four minutes later, 'the pilot advised they were climbing to avoid a cloud layer,' Homendy said.
It was his last message to air traffic controllers.
'When ATC asked what the pilot planned to do, there was no reply,' Homendy said. 'Radar data indicates the helicopter climbed to 2,300 feet and then began a left descending turn.'
Bryant won five NBA titles before he retired in 2016. He's pictured on April 13, 2016, after his final NBA game at the Staples Center
Kobe and Gianna are survived by his wife Vanessa and their three other daughters - Natalia, Bianka and Capri (all pictured), who was born last summer
Two minutes later, someone on the ground called 911 to report the crash. The helicopter had slammed into a hillside and burst into flames.
Details of what followed are still under investigation but there are indications that the helicopter plunged some 1,000 feet.
It was flying at about 184mph and descending at a rate of more than 4,000 feet per minute when it struck the ground, according to data from Flightradar24.
Ditchey told USA Today that helicopters can operate in bad weather because they can fly low, but they need to have reasonable visibility of at least one mile.
According to Ditchey, even then, going at 120mph only gives the pilot only 30 seconds to avoid a large obstacle, suggesting the pilot may have been traveling too fast to properly maneuver around obstacles.
Ditchey said the helicopter appeared to run into trouble around the Glendale area where visibility decreased.
'They’re in the fog, and you’re down hugging the ground trying to fly up the highway and barely able to see it,' Ditchey told the news outlet.
Mourning fans on Tuesday placed bouquets of flowers at a makeshift memorial outside the Staples Center
On Monday, people gathered at a memorial for Bryant near the Staples Center in Los Angeles
The chartered Sikorsky S-76B was a luxury twin-engine aircraft often used by Bryant in traffic-jumping hops around the LA area's notoriously congested sprawl.
It was heading from John Wayne Airport in Orange County to Camarillo Airport in Ventura County when it crashed in Calabasas.
Mourning fans on Tuesday placed bouquets of flowers at a makeshift memorial outside the gated community in Newport Beach, south of Los Angeles, where the late NBA great lived.
Bryant teamed with Shaquille O'Neal in a combustible partnership to lead the Lakers to consecutive NBA titles in 2000, 2001 and 2002.
He was the league MVP in 2008 and a two-time NBA scoring champion, and he earned 12 selections to the NBA's All-Defensive teams.
Bryant went on to win two more titles in 2009 and 2010, and retired in 2016.
Kobe and Gianna are survived by his wife Vanessa and their three other daughters - Natalia, Bianka and Capri, who was born last summer.