Island Express, the aircraft charter company that owned the Sikorsky S-76 helicopter that impacted a hillside in Calabasas, California, on Sunday killing all nine people onboard including retired NBA star Kobe Bryant, is a VFR-only operation, according to information from the NTSB and a former company employee. As previously reported by AVweb, the Part 135 flight had received a Special VFR clearance with weather at the time of the crash reported as 2.5 miles visibility in fog and ceilings of 1,100 feet.
The pilot, identified as Island Express chief pilot Ara Zobayan, had more than 8,200 hours total time with 1,250 hours on the S-76. Zobayan was instrument rated and had been with the company for over 10 years. It has been reported that Island Express has temporarily suspended operations in the wake of the accident.
According to the NTSB, the helicopter was not equipped with a terrain awareness and warning system (TAWS) and impacted terrain 20-30 feet below top of a hill. The Board stated that the helicopter was in a left bank with a descent rate of over 2000 feet per minute prior to impact. The aircraft maintenance records, registration, airworthiness certificate, weight and balance sheets and company operating manual were recovered from the wreckage along with an unidentified iPad and cellphone. The aircraft did not have a cockpit voice recorder or flight data recorder.
The FAA established a TFR over the crash site on Wednesday to “provide a safe environment for accident investigation.” The TFR is in effect until Feb. 4.