Investigators have identified the pilot of the helicopter that crashed Sunday the resulted in the deaths of nine people, among them basketball great Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, as Ara Zobayan, who according to sources was Bryant’s pilot.
Zobayan, who was also a flight instructor, was mourned by friends and acquaintances who took to social media to express their grief.
One of Zobayan’s former students, Darren Kemp, told the Los Angeles Times that Zobayan was Bryant’s private pilot. “He doesn’t let anyone else fly him around but Ara,” remarked Kemp. He described Zobayan as being a dedicated instructor who genuinely cared about his students and their success. Kemp remembered how Zobayan would help him overcome various, personal obstacles in his life; first with his divorce and, later, encouraging him to stay in school when he no longer thought he could.
Fellow pilot Jared Joachim paid tribute to his friend through a Facebook post. “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,” Joachim wrote. “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.”
“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,” a friend said on Twitter.
According to Federal Aviation Administration records, Zobayan, 50, held a commercial license since 2007 and was an instrument-rated pilot, which meant he was qualified to fly in bad weather conditions. During the January 26 flight, Zobayan was flying under special visual flight rules, which allow helicopters to be flown when visibility is an issue, according to the audio reviewed by The Washington Post.
Following the crash, KTLA’s Christina Pascucci tweeted, “Also, according to records, Ara was instrument rated. That means he was rated to fly in fog/clouds.” Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer said that the helicopter being flown by Zobayan was a Sikorsky S-76.
The official cause of the crash is still under investigation.