The owner of the helicopter that was carrying basketball great Kobe Bryant and eight other people when it crashed was not licensed to fly in foggy conditions, an official has said.
Island Express Helicopters was limited to operating under visual flight rules, meaning pilots must be able to see clearly outside the aircraft in daylight, according to National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) spokesman Keith Holloway.
While pilot Ara Zobayan was licensed to fly using only cockpit instruments, he did not have legal authority for that specific flight because the charter company did not have the necessary certification, sources told the New York Times.
The aircraft was reportedly equipped for instrument flying but Mr Holloway told Reuters news agency that it was not known if Mr Zobayan was doing so at the time of the crash.
He added that a preliminary report on the crash, which is expected in about 10 days, may provide answers.
“The preliminary information is Island Express’s 135 certificate did not allow for IFR [instrument flight rules] flight,” Mr Holloway said.
Island Express Helicopters has not commented on the NTSB’s statement but has previously said it is suspending all services.
More from Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant’s wife posts family portrait and breaks silence after helicopter tragedy
Kobe Bryant: Details of fatal helicopter crash revealed by investigators
‘Heartbroken’ LeBron James says he will continue Kobe Bryant’s ‘legacy’
Kobe Bryant’s body identified as all nine victims recovered from crash site
Kobe Bryant death: Who were the other victims killed in helicopter crash?
Kobe Bryant death: Three bodies found at helicopter crash site
Kobe Bryant’s life in pictures
The company said: “The shock of the accident affected all staff, and management decided that service would be suspended until such time as it was deemed appropriate for staff and customers.”
Former Los Angeles Lakers star Bryant died along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other people in the helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, last Sunday.
:: Listen to the Daily podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Spreaker
Mr Zobayan revealed in his last message to air traffic control that he was attempting to clear the clouds, and had minutes before just been given special clearance to fly in the heavy fog that had blanketed the area.
On Friday, LA Lakers star LeBron James led tributes to Bryant in the team’s first game since the helicopter crash.
Thousands of fans chanted “Kobe! Kobe!”, while red roses were left on the courtside seats where Bryant and his daughter Gianna sat at the last Lakers game they attended earlier this season.
“As I look around this arena, we’re all breathing, hurt and heartbroken,” James told the crowd.
“Tonight we celebrate the kid that came here at 18, retired at 38 and became probably the best dad we’ve seen over the last three years.” pic.twitter.com/0sS7e91cuz
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) February 1, 2020
“The best thing you can do is lean on the shoulders of your family.
“Kobe is a brother to me.
“The one thing we always shared was that determination to just want to win. I want to continue his legacy, not just this year, but as long as we continue to play basketball.”
Following the tributes, which also included a performance from music star Usher, the LA Lakers lost the game against the Portland Trail Blazers 127-119.