‘Kobe Bryant Helicopter Operator Involved in 3 Crashes Before Calabasas Tragedy’ – Records Show

This undated photo provided by Group 3 Aviation shows helicopter pilot Ara Zobayan, who was at the controls of the helicopter that crashed in Southern California, Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020, killing all nine aboard including former Lakers star Kobe Bryant. Location is not provided. (Group 3 Aviation via AP)

The Long Beach-based company that operated the helicopter that crashed in Calabasas Sunday, killing Kobe Bryant and eight others aboard, has had three other accidents involving its helicopters dating back to 1985, according to National Transportation Safety Board records.

Island Express Helicopters, which has offered helicopter flights and tours in Southern California since 1982, owned the Sikorsky S76 that was being flown by the company’s chief pilot, Ara Zobayan, when it crashed Sunday. Zobayan, who was among those killed in the crash, had been with the company for more than a decade.

There have been three helicopters operated by Island Express Helicopters that crashed during their Catalina routes, NTSB records show. Two of the three incidents involved engine failure.

In May 2008, three died and three others were seriously injured when an Island Express helicopter starting to descend to its Catalina destination had a total loss of engine power at around 200 to 400 feet above the ground. Witnesses reported hearing a loud pop, followed by flames coming from the back of the engine before the helicopter hit the ground.


The NTSB found that the probable cause for the accident was that a fatigue fracture of a power turbine blade caused the engine to lose power when it approached landing, according to the agency’s accident report. The chopper, an Aerospatiale AS-350D, was owned and operated by Island Express, according to Federal Aviation Administration records.

In December 1999, an Island Express helicopter crash-landed onto a slope during a sightseeing tour on Catalina Island. One person was seriously injured and six escaped with minor injuries

In its accident report, the NTSB found that the helicopter’s engine lost power while maneuvering at a low level, when the pilot descended to about 250 feet above ground level to observe a herd of buffalo. The helicopter, also an Aerospatiale AS-350D, was owned and operated by Island Express, FAA records showed.

In November 1985, an Island Express helicopter and a Helitrans helicopter traveling from Avalon to San Pedro collided in the air and both plummeted into the ocean. The six passengers aboard the Island Express were injured, three with serious injuries; and one person died on the Helitrans helicopter with five injured.

In its accident report, the NTSB found that both companies had inadequate procedures and operations leading up to the crash. It wasn’t clear who owned the chopper, a Bell 206L, operated by Island Express. The aircraft was registered to RS Aviation, Inc., according to FAA records.

Island Express Helicopters declined to comment on the incidents.

Island Express Helicopters offers flights to Catalina from its heliport near the Queen Mary, but also departs from San Pedro, Burbank and Orange County, according to, which books flights with Island Express on its website. There are two different sized helicopters that offer the 15-minute flight route to Catalina and back, the website said.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the company was continuing to operate flights this week following Sunday’s crash. An Island Express Helicopters employee who answered the company’s phone Thursday said there were no flights scheduled that day.


Written by How Africa

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