Ara Zobayan was the pilot of the helicopter that crashed in Calabasas, California on January 26 killing Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna. Zobayan and six other people died in the crash. Three of those have been named as Orange Coast College coach John Altobelli, his wife Keri and their daughter Alyssa. Another victim was later named Christina Mauser, a high school coach at Harbor Day School in Corona del Mar. As well as Sarah and Payton Chester.
Zobayan was 50 years old. The Armenian Report has identified Zobayan as being of Armenian descent.
The group was en route to a junior basketball game at the Mamba Sports Academy, according to the New York Times.
The helicopter involved in the crash was a Sikorsky S-76, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer said. The registration was N72EX. That’s the same number shown on the photographs of Kobe’s private helicopter in the past. The helicopter was built in 1991.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Helicopter Was Registered to IEX Helicopters
The helicopter involved in the crash was registered to Island Express Helicopters of Fillmore, California. According to the National Transportation Safety Board database, the helicopter involved in the crash was not previously involved in any incidents.
Flight Radar indicates that the helicopter left John Wayne Airport in Orange County at 9:06 a.m. local time. The flight path took it over Boyle Heights, close to Dodger Stadium, and over Glendale.
According to defense contractor Lockheed Martin, the S-76 helicopters were originally built in the 1970s to work with off-shore oil drilling and were later repurposed. Martin bought Sikorsky Aircrafts in 2015. Among the pilots who work for the company is former “Falcon Crest” actor Lorenzo Lamas.
2. Zobayan Could Be Seen in Lorenzo Lamas’ Episode of ‘Celebrity Wife Swap’
In July 2013, Zobayan was featured on Lorenzo Lamas’ episode of “Celebrity Wife Swap” alongside comedian Andy Dick. A Facebook post from Lamas at the time read, “Tune in to ABC this Sunday 8pm to see Ara and me fly Andy Dick’s baby momma around on ‘Celebrity Wife Swap’ lol.”
3. Zobayan Has Been Described as Being ‘Especially Attentive’ to Bryant’s Family
A friend of Zobayan’s wrote a glowing tribute to the late pilot on Twitter saying, “Working for the aviation business has allowed me to meet some pretty amazing people and pilots. Ara was definitely one of them. Always so nice, talkative and especially attentive when it came to Kobe and his family. I’m heart broken.”
Another friend, Jared Yochim, paid a touching post to Zobayan on Facebook referring to the late pilot as a “great pilot” and a “truly great man.” Joachim said, “Ara was an incredible pilot, instructor pilot, charter pilot and truly a great man. He was not your typical egotistical helicopter pilot like most of us honestly are. Ara was a man that always remained cool, calm and collected. As more people that knew Ara open up about him, you’ll only hear words like professional, calculated and loving. He was always good for a laugh. The loss is not mine, but a community really. Ara impacted so many people and only in a positive way. I’m sorry that you never got to meet him. You would’ve loved him, I promise.” Joachim posted a photo of Zobayan and him at a friend’s birthday with the caption, “Who ever would’ve thought that would be our final beer together.”
Online records show that Zobayan was an instrument-rated pilot, meaning that he was qualified to fly in fog conditions. Rusty Barnes, the chief pilot of Barnes Aviation in Rockford, Illinois, told Heavy via email, “If you are on Instruments in IMC conditions, in this case Ara was flying on what’s called Special VFR or SVFR and not flying on Instruments at the time of the accident. SVFR refers to Special VFR, which allows a pilot to fly in lower visibility in controlled airspace. When giving flight reviews to helicopter pilots, I ask what that means. Occasionally, I am told that SVFR is not permitted at that airport.” Barnes added that SVFR is not permitted for fixed-wing aircraft.
4. The Cause of the Crash That Killed Kobe Bryant Remains Under Investigation
Officials have said that the cause of the crash that killed Kobe Bryant remains under investigation. The Los Angeles Times’ Richard Winton tweeted that prior to the crash, the mountains around Calabasas were “fogged in.” Winton tweeted, “Small plane crash on Las Virgenes on the mountains, which are fogged in right now. I heard the plane splutter and then a boom.”
Lockheed Martin has said that the company will aid the investigation into the crash. Juan Bonilla of Calabasas told KTLA that he did not feel that visibility was not that low immediately prior to the crash. The Los Angeles Times has reported that officials had grounded all helicopters in the area prior to the crash. According to air traffic control recordings, Zobayan was told he was “too low” to be picked up on the tower’s radar, so they could not assist him in finding his way through the fog.
5. Lakers GM Rob Pelinka Said His Life Flashed Before His Eyes During a Helicopter Trip With Kobe
Kobe was known to have regularly taken a helicopter to practice during his playing days. The helicopter he has been using since later in his career is owned by IEX Enterprises. Kobe continued to rent the helicopter from time to time. Bryant told GQ Magazine in 2010 that the use of the helicopter, taking it to games at the Staples Center, was also for health reasons. Bryant said that the helicopter journey allowed him to be fresh prior to games.
In 2017, Lakes general manager Rob Pelinka told the Los Angeles Times that his life flashed before his eyes during a helicopter trip with Bryant. Pelinka said, “My life was flashing before my eyes. I almost had a heart attack. Kobe’s just sitting there calm and collected.” Pelinka said that Bryant had instructed the pilot to perform elaborate military-style manoeuvers during their trip together.
Sikorsky, the helicopter’s manufacturer, has tweeted their condolences to Kobe Bryant’s family. The company said, “We extend our sincerest condolences to all those affected by today’s Sikorsky S-76B accident in Calabasas, California. We have been in contact with the NTSB and stand ready to provide assistance and support to the investigative authorities and our customer.”
In 2018, Yaisel Puig bought a helicopter with the help of Kobe. Puig told the Los Angeles Times in 2016 that it was dream to own a helicopter.