PILOT Ara Zobayan was one of nine people who tragically died in a helicopter crash last year, which took the lives of all onboard – including Lakers legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna.
The experienced pilot tried his best to avoid foggy conditions but, ultimately, was unable to gain back control.
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Who was Ara Zobayan?
Pilot Ara Zobayan, 50, from Huntington Beach, California, held a commercial helicopter licence and was a certified flight instructor, according to Federal Aviation Administration records cited by the New York Times.
He was instrument rated, meaning he was qualified to fly in limited visibility conditions, according to records cited on Twitter by KTLA reporter Christina Pascucci, also a licenced pilot.
"He taught aspiring heli pilots to fly and was very much loved in the aviation community," Pascucci wrote on Twitter.
Zobayan was flying Bryant’s Sikorsky S-76 helicopter.
Nearly six months after the fatal crash, the National Transportation Safety Board released documents containing shocking information about the accident.
In the NTSB's report, the federal agency said that when Zobayan made the radio call, he reported the chopper was ascending when it was actually spiraling to the ground.
He may have "misperceived" the angles at which he was descending and banking, which ESPN says can happen when a pilot becomes disoriented in low visibility.
"Calculated apparent angles at this time show that the pilot could have misperceived both pitch and roll angles," one report stated.
"During the final descent the pilot, responding to [air traffic control], stated that they were climbing to four thousand."
Their final report will be out in February.
Evidence shows the pilot was just 12 seconds away from getting the chopper to safety.
When did Ara Zobayan become a helicopter pilot?
FAA's pilot certification database records Zobayan as an instrument-certified pilot who earned his commercial pilot's licence in 2007.
He is also a certified flight instructor for instrument instruction for helicopter pilots, records show.
Zobayan was up to date on FAA-required annual medical exams.
Jennifer Homendy of the National Transportation Safety Board said: "The pilot had a commercial certificate. He was a certified flight instructor.
"(As of) July 2019, he had 8,200 hours of flight time. It's an experienced pilot.”
What did Ara Zobayan say before the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash?
Zobayan told air traffic controllers in his last radio message that he was climbing to avoid a cloud layer before plunging more than 1,000 feet into a hillside, an accident investigator said.
The pilot had asked for and received special clearance to fly in heavy fog just minutes before the crash on January 26 and was flying at 1,400 feet when he went south and then west.
He then asked for air traffic controllers to provide flight following aide but was told the craft was too low.
About four minutes later, he advised they were climbing to avoid a cloud layer.
When ATC asked what Zobayan planned to do, there was no reply.
Radar data indicated the helicopter climbed to 2,300 feet and then began a left descending turn.
Last radar contact was about 9.45am and is consistent with the accident location.
What have friends and colleagues said about Ara Zobayan?
Jared Yochim, a friend of the pilot, penned a heartfelt tribute on Facebook, writing: "The pilot flying Kobe and crew today was my friend Ara Zobayan.
"Many of my friends were actually friends with Ara and not just pilots.
"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.
Jared Yochim, a pilot who knew Zobayan for 12 years, told The Daily Beast: "When you think of pilots and you think Tom Cruise and Maverick, that wasn't what was happening there.
"I promise you, any flying that Ara was doing… he was in a safe condition. He’s not a guy to push limits.
"He’s a rule follower and he knows the rules and the regulations."
Fellow pilot Yochim told CNN: "There's a reason that people wanted to fly with him. He was just a cool, calm guy."
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