The helicopter that crashed with Kobe Bryant and 8 others aboard wasn't certified to fly under instrument flight rules, three sources tell the New York Times. While pilot Ara Zobayan did have the proper certification to fly with instruments typically used in poor conditions, Island Express Helicopters' FAA operating certification limited pilots carrying passengers for hire to visual flight rules, with at least three miles of visibility and a cloud ceiling of at least 1,000 feet, says a pilot and former safety manager at the company. As a result, Zobayan was required to navigate visually. Near Burbank, north of Los Angeles, visibility was reduced from four miles to 2.5 miles, per the Times. Zobayan then received clearance to continue in heavy fog toward the hills of Calabasas under special visual flight rules, which required that he remain clear of clouds. He ultimately may not have been able to.
No other local charter companies have IFR certification, either, according to an operator at Van Nuys Airport, where Island Express is based. Claudia Lowry tells the Times that even local police helicopters don't, as it requires more training, equipment, and insurance. Plus, Southern California is usually sunny. The Sikorsky S-76B "had sophisticated instruments onboard that in other circumstances would allow for instrument flight," per the Times. But it did not have an alarm system that would've notified the pilot when he was approaching terrain, per the Los Angeles Times. Island Express announced Thursday that it had suspended all regular and charter services "until such time as it was deemed appropriate for staff and customers," citing the "shock" of the accident, per Business Insider. (Read more helicopter crash stories.)