Moments before the crash, the Kobe Bryant pilot, Ara Zobayan received SVFR clearance (special visual flight rules clearance) according to audio recordings between the pilot and air traffic control.
The SVFR clearance allows a pilot to fly in weather conditions worse than those allowed for regular visual flight rules.
Pilots sometimes request SVFR clearance mid-flight if weather conditions suddenly change and when those permissions are granted they ought to keep closer contact with air traffic control.
After the pilot requested special permission to fly through the area, the helicopter circled for 12 minutes until air traffic control approved SVFR clearance.
When the pilot flew into the Burbank and Van Nuys airspace at 1,400 feet, he requested radar assistance to avoid traffic. But air traffic control said the helicopter was too low to be able to get that assistance.
Zobayan said he was going to climb higher, and air traffic controllers responded. But they never heard back. Radar data indicated the helicopter climbed 2,300 feet and began a left descending turn.
Homendy said investigators will look into whether Zobayan should have been granted SVFR clearance.
Zobayan was experienced and had 8,200 hours of flight time as of July 2019. He had 1,250 hours of flight time on the S-76 helicopter. He had been working with Island Express Helicopters, which owned and operated the Sikorsky S-76B.
“We are working closely with the National Transportation Safety Board to investigate the cause of the accident and we are grateful to the first responders and local authorities,” Island Express said in an earlier written statement.
NTSB investigators are looking at pilot records, weather information, ATC communications and the wreckage as part of the investigation. The chopper is to have been reliable, safe and capable according to aviation experts.